Tasis (ta’-sis): Sustaining the pronunciation of a word or phrase because of its pleasant sound. A figure apparent in delivery.

My mother was obsessed with Pandas. For her, they were “the cuuu-test creatures on God’s green earth.” She had a bamboo garden in the basement, lit by purple grow lights. She called it “Panda Acres” even though the “Acres” were growing in a 3-foot square box. She fervently hoped to feed a Panda in the basement some day. She had a gallery of “famous pandas” hanging on the living room wall. Andy Panda was most prominently displayed. In one picture Andy, and his sidekick Charlie Chicken, are pictured hoisting beer steins with their chests puffed way out. I always thought it was because they were proud of something, but my mom was convinced they were doing “healthy” breathing exercises.

She was concerned with panda health. Whenever a new panda was born in China, or at the zoo, we would hold a vigil, praying for the baby panda’s survival. Mom had a portable shrine mounted on roller skates. She would pull it out of my bedroom and make bamboo offerings and say brief prayers. My favorite was “Dear baby panda, listen to your mother, stand up straight, and don’t j-walk.” Sometimes we’d sit up all night, burning incense, drinking tea, and making up panda stories. Dad made up “The little panda who got a tattoo.” It was about a panda who joined a biker gang and raised hell all over New York. He had a tattoo of a devil-horned pangolin on his butt and swore a lot. For obvious reasons, my mother hated the tattoo story and would go “na, na, na” whenever my father started telling it.

One of my earliest memories is riding in a stroller on a warm spring morning wearing my panda suit. I wasn’t allowed to talk. I was only allowed to grunt like what we thought a panda would sound like. I was expected to hold my hands out too, like I was begging for bamboo. People thought I looked cute, but they did’t know what hell it was inside the suit. The worst was that the panda suit’s eyeholes weren’t lined up with my eyes. So, everything was sort of cut in half. When I got older, I had to wear a panda snowsuit when I walked to school. Mom made me carry a piece of bamboo and swish it around like a fly swatter. One day I couldn’t get my snowsuit off at school. After that, everybody called me Poo-Poo Panda. I didn’t like it.

But then the seventies came. I finished high school and moved away from home. I formed a rock band called “The Primo Pandas.” We wore panda face paint and had back-up dancers in full-on panda suits who frequently fainted in the middle of a set. The audience expected it, so the fainting always got some heavy applause. Our biggest hit was “Bam-bam-boo-boo, I’m gonna’ Chew ya’ Right Down.” John Lee Hooker’s lawyer told us he would’ve sued us for infringing on his “Boom, Boom,” but we were too pitiful to mess with. Despite that, John Lee sat in on a gig with us in Oakland, CA. He was truly a great man.

When things opened up further with China, we made millions touring—Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, etc. We merchandised the hell out of the panda suits and other items, like panda eye masks. When it was all over, I opened a Chinese restaurant back in New York with Xiu, the woman I had met (and married) on the tour in Shanghai. Along with other pictures (for example, me and Ringo waving bamboo branches) mom’s panda gallery graces the restaurant’s wall. All the staff wear panda suits, and the name of the restaurant is “Panda’s Trough,” and it’s themed like an upscale zoo cage. People love it!

Xiu and I are going to have a baby in about five months. She’s afraid it will look like a panda. So am I.

Definition courtesy of “Silva Rhetoricae” (rhetoric.byu.edu).

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