and why that name means something to our family.
In 2008 I was toiling away at my desk, working on a new 3D program for footwear design, aptly named “ShoeMaker.” It was a PC program that was running on my Mac that somehow split my hard drive. My computer was not happy and was seriously limping along. Then it made a funny crackling, popping noise and finally went “Peeewwwwwwwww.” My screen went black. 'That can’t be good,' I thought as I picked up the phone and called our IT department. As I waited on the line and chatted to one of our techs, I looked down and I was drawing on a piece of paper with my favorite pen. This is not unusual, but the thing is, my hand was drawing but my brain was not connected. If there is anyone else that draws out there you may be different, but for me, I usually have a dialogue going in my head. 'Smooth that out, fix that, try this, shade that, tighten that up, maybe rounder?' This time there was none of that. I just sat there watching my hand draw. A little tiny creature was starting to take form and I marvelled as it wasn’t really my normal style. It basically threw out all my normal design choices and became something unique. I was pretty sure my computer was shot, but while I waited for the techs to come up and confirm, I finished my little drawing. I got the markers (remember those?) out and created a little background with a big smile on my face. I liked it so much that I made a color copy, created a little card, addressed it to Sam and sent it off. Turns out my computer did in fact toast itself. The next day or so was spent trying to get a new computer up and running and to see what IT could salvage off the old one. I lost quite a bit of work. I totally forgot about the drawing until a few days later when Sam called laughing. “What is this?” She asked. I told her I didn’t know, but I thought it was funny. “I love it!” She said. I looked up and saw the original drawing on a scrap of paper tacked to my partition wall and smiled.
I now need to back up a year or so. At bedtime, my job was to read the kids their bedtime stories. Sam would get them all ready, teeth brushed, jammies on, and they would pile into Tabatha’s built-in ship's bed and we would read a couple of stories. Any other parents out there know this is a wonderful but sometimes painful experience. Reading the same favorite book, as boring as it might be, for the 100th time. On this particular night, I settled in to read just such a book when I looked to the right and there was a Folkmantis Bat puppet sitting in a pile of stuffed animals. I picked it up and put it on. A voice that wasn’t much of a stretch for me (a combination of a whiny Boston and New York Accent) just appeared. I went into character and started to read to the kids. “Alright der kids, I have herd I am heeeya to read some dang bedtime stowries.” Said batty. We trundled along with “Batty” pointing out that he needed help turning the pages. Batty's antics made this book more entertaining: making fun of the illustrations, pointing out how he would have acted differently in the story, and how boring this particular story was and couldn’t we just read another. All the stuff I couldn’t say as an adult but for Batty it was met with smiles and laughter. Just then Sam came into the room and went into super mom mode picking up clothes and smiling at our antics. At some point, she made the mistake of bending at the waist right in front of us. “Oh my goodness gerls, look at that, moons over my hammy. A full moon just came out? Look at you gore geeeee oussss! Come over here and tawk to Batty!”
Up until this point I forgot that Sam had done quite a few High School Plays and was a good actor. She spun around and came over and confronted “Batty, you shut the hell up!”
Batty snarked back something I can’t remember and she pointed her finger in his face and said “ I mean it, shut up!”
Batty responded with something that was immediately clipped because Sam grabbed him by the face and held his mouth shut. Batty kept mumbling incoherently until Sam released him where he stage fell onto the bed and gasped for air.
The kids lost their minds and roared with laughter. My inner dad pride grew at a moment well done. Sam left and Batty continued reading, although not with the same grandiose flair, as he had to calm things down now. Then the strangest thing happened. Isa, who was still smiling and chuckling with this newcomer, turned and looked up at me. I can’t really describe the expression but their eyes bugged a little angrily in what I translated as “Why are you still here!!”
“Did that just happen?” I asked myself. I was almost certain it did. Batty finished reading the story and gave each of the girls a kiss on the cheek as they snuggled under the covers. Isa then reached up and grabbed Batty and gave him a huge hug and a kiss and asked if he would read again tomorrow.
Just like that, a nighttime tradition was born at the Cass house. The next day on the way home I stopped at the local toy store in Multnoma village and bought two more puppets. This time I tried them on in the store to see how well they worked before making the purchase. A couple of months later we had a large wicker basket full of puppets and as soon as it was time for bed each child would pick a puppet to read a story. It was great fun and I was no longer bored because the story was irrelevant. I could go anywhere with storytime. The puppets started to tell their own stories. One day Tabatha came home from school and proudly presented “Fluffernutter.” A baby owl with beak and button eyes that she had crocheted at school. I put it on and it was adorable. I immediately came up with a nasal voice as the beak was really cute and crooked. It became a game for me to put on a puppet and use the wrong voice. The kids would laugh and correct me. Bedtime was fun for all in a way I never expected.
Now here is where the randomness of connection, design, life and thought all merged in my mind. There is a much longer story here but I will condense it into this thought: We love Halloween and would spare little effort when decorating the house and preparing for the few kids that might wander down our street for Halloween. The idea of preparing for Halloween, reading to my kids with puppets and that silly little drawing still hanging in my space all converged into “I should make that into a puppet!”
I'll spare you all the construction trials and tribulations, but suffice it to say that I made a character that wasn’t exactly what I had drawn, but represented the spirit of the thing fairly well. I had been hiding in our studio and toiling away with it every night for a week and a half, and as soon as the last stitch went on his jacket I was ready to release my creation. So just before dinner time on Saturday the 27th, 2008, Nymbol and I walked through the front door of our house and he was shown to the kids for the first time. As I introduced him, Izzy walked up slightly distracted and gave him a big hug and said,”Hi Nymbol, it is really nice to meet you. We are going to BurgerVille. Do you want to come?”
I don’t know if you ever had a moment where you are so scared the adrenaline and blood hits the front of your face in an electric shock wave, but that is what happened to me. I made Nymbol for my kids and a shadowy appearance during Halloween. This wasn’t part of the plan.
“I would love to go to BurgerVille!” Nymbol responded in a voice that I hadn’t even practiced but fit perfectly. I had made this for my kids. Who was I to put limits on it?
Fifteen minutes later I was hiding in a booth while Nymbol stood on the seat between Izzy and myself and he was telling stories while eating french fries. The kids loved it. Puppets eating are funny and this was going well.
This is actually the moment when our world shifted. Sitting there every child in the place saw Nymbol. One even came over to the side of the table and had a short conversation with him before one of his parents pulled him away. There were smiles and laughter from all of the kids. The surprising thing is, not a single parent or adult acknowledged the presence of Nymbol and what he was doing. They did not see him. It occurred to all of us that he must be a magical being that only children could see. That was the moment that broke me open and gave me something to push against. During other “appearances” the harder someone doubled down ignoring what was happening, the more obnoxious Nymbol became trying to connect to the “real world.”
Let the games begin.
I have so many stories I can share from this moment on, but I think this one sums it up best. A few months later I was heading to Europe to meet with the team over there and study the kid's market. My marketing counterpart already knew my mind.
“You are not bringing the Fecking puppet!” He said.
“I am bringing the Fecking puppet. It is not a puppet, he is a creature, his name is Nymbol.”
“You are not bringing Nymbol.” He said
“I am.” I responded. And I did.
Fast forward to day two in Barcelona. We are standing outside the Gaudi hotel, taking photos and admiring the organic architecture when I step away from the group (a concession I made) and let Nymbol take a couple of selfies to send back to the girls. Just then one of my lovely coworkers said “Bill, look out!”
I looked to my left and a dad was wheeling his son over in a wheelchair to meet Nymbol.
Remember that blood hitting the front of your face moment? Same thing here.
As the dad came over, I realized that neither I nor Nymbol spoke Spanish, but he does know how to say hello in about 15 languages. He went through the list, and made a couple of jokes and, it wasn’t going all that well even though there was a smile on the youngster's face. Then,….(pause for effect) the gods gave me a gift. There on the kid's lap was a small bag from Dunkin Donuts. I am originally from the Boston area, DD’s is a big thing. This is pure gold, but I can't help thinking, "Who the hell put a Dunkin Donuts in Barcelona?
Nymbol spied the bag and pointed at it. In an excited whisper he said, ”...Is that Dunkin Donuuuuuuuts!” With his voice cracking at the end. “Can I have some??? Pleeeeeeease!!! I looooooooooove Dunkin Donuts!”
The boy’s face exploded into a smile and he reached into bag and fed a piece of chocolate glazed donut to Nymbol. Nymbol Lost his mind and went in to convulsions of joy, exclaiming “Num, Num, Num, Num.”
The boy burst into laughter and gave Nymbol another bite. More laughter, but this time it was soooo much louder, and not coming from him. I turned behind me and there must have been 30 people watching this moment.
In one last convulsion of joy Nymbol collapsed onto my lap, looked at the boy and thanked him ever so much for the donut.
“I need to go take a nap now,… That was sooooooo good.” Nymbol said. We all said our goodbyes with Nymbol blowing kisses and the dad started to roll the young man away. Just as he passed the dad leaned over to me and in a quiet yet solid voice said “Thank you so much!”
As they walked away I made eye contact with my coworker. Absolute waterworks.
As I put Nymbol back in his knapsack she said, “I totally get it now.”
He never truly went back in the bag on that trip. Nymbol was now part of the crew and made my last ever business trip for Nike one I will always remember.