Jowita Bydlowska

A Uniter Not A Divider!

This is “Vinni Puh.”


“Vinni Puh”

This is “Winnie the Pooh.”


Rick Reinert, “Winnie the Pooh and a Day for Eeyore” (1983)

You and I are not the same. It has nothing to do with my accent. It has to do with our youth: cartoons and toys.

This difference becomes clear usually when somebody (you) makes a reference to a childhood toy, a TV show or a cartoon, and everyone around the table nods enthusiastically and says: “Oh yes, yes, we remember,” and then you all grab each other’s hands, and stand in a circle and start singing that song and bring up other plushy, technicolour recollections.

By the time everyone is done sliding down the memory-trip rainbow I have turned suicidal, black and white — Polish. I am all alone sitting in the dark corner playing accordion, drinking vodka straight out of a plastic cup, finishing my pack of unfiltered smokes and laughing melancholically to myself while all of you fucking Care Bears ask me what is wrong sweetie?

What is wrong sweetie is that when you had your happy Strawberry Shortcakes I was cheering on an alcoholic, homicidal Russian wolf with a cigarette.


Vyacheslav Kotyonochkin, “Nu Pogodi!

While you, on the other side of the globe were developing a bit of an ADHD from having too many choices per hour, I was eagerly counting down the days till Friday at five PM, when I could watch a TV show about a moth-eaten diarrhea-tinted dog puppet.


“Okienko Pankracego”

What is wrong is that you had Sesame Street and I had a balding, red-faced hobo named Kulfon.


“Kulfon co z Ciebie wyrosnie?”

You had My Little Pony, I had…What did I have?.. I had a My Little Pony catalogue — that I had found in the garbage by the American embassy — in which I painstakingly circled thumbnail-size pictures of ponies that I would ask for, if they were available. They were not available.

What was available? I had some toys from Pewex, like the sticky rubberlike hydrocephalus Czech version of a Barbie doll or a fake Monchichi monkey or a picture of a strangely elongated Miki Mous. (In Warsaw you could also, occasionally, get LEGO for the price of a kidney, on a black market.)

Sometime in the mid-80s Polish television acquired rights to “Smurfs.” In my recollection, the Smurfs were the biggest hit. Ever. They unleashed greed and need so impetuous that Polish children everywhere started to die of blue fever.

I myself have had spent a few humiliating afternoons trying to befriend — then bribe with sexual favours — a horrible, mean little kid named Daniel who somehow had access to colouring Smurf books. I wanted to borrow one so that I could copy the pictures at home. I let that kid kiss me.

Around the time of “the Smurfs,” the magical gates of the Western world had opened even wider and released “Fraggle Rock,” “Muppet Babies,” “He-Man,” Michael Jackson, “Gremlins“… And my mother, finally understanding the importance of authenticity and quality of rubber, had asked a friend in California to buy me a real Barbie. (The friend sent instead Mattell’s top-seller of the time: Super Star Ken — complete with a disco suit and Kent Clark-hair — whom I had cherished for the fantastic new smell, which till this day I still like to refer as “the Barbie smell.”)

But despite the bountiful accession of Western culture it would’ve been impossible to truly catch up to you to share similar memories of your fresh-rubber childhood heroes. We, dusty-coloured Polish children, weren’t used to them the way you were. We were suspicious, in too much of an awe to get accustomed.

So, do you see how insensitive it is for you to forever go on about your Pound Puppies, your GI Joes, your “Mr. Dress-ups,” even your “Friendly Giants” (the older you) as if it was normal? Are you surprised at how bitter I’ve become?

I’m kidding. I’m not really bitter or mad at you; this is not your fault. In fact, there’s nothing stopping me from re-educating myself right now with YouTube (and the Internet in general). For example, while writing this I had to look up a lot of the things so I know it’s all there if I only reach for it — and I will — once I sober up and put off the suicide for another time. The Internet is a great uniter.

- Jowita Bydlowska

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Christoff/650859504 Michael Christoff

    Pessimism and suspicion seem to be foundational elements of character among people from countries of the former Soviet Bloc. This dark temperament appears to act like some kind of filter through which all their perceptions and emotions must pass. An interesting question is, can this disposition be un-learned, or has it been imprinted at the genetic level by a culture of social dysfunction? Can a plant that grows in poisoned soil recover if transplanted? Is that an apt metaphor? I have no answers to these questions. For me they are purely conjectural. For you they are not.

  • baska

    loved this. growing up with pan kracy, the diarrhea-tinted dog puppet, has forever left me with strong unhealthy feelings toward stuffed, worn-out, depressed looking toy animals. when i immigrated to canada at 11, i best related to teddy ruxpin, i mean his father left, i don’t quite remember where the mother was but i had an inkling she was a recovering alcoholic and teddy’s friends grubby and gimmick kinda looked to me like they had “issues.”
    a lot of my friends give me condescending smiles when i tell them i’m not depressed i’m just polish. compared to half the people i grew up around i’m a regular barrel of laughs.

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Jowita Bydlowska was born in Warsaw, as in Poland. She moved to Canada as a teenager. That hurt. She got over it eventually and now she likes it in Canada. She lives in Toronto with her little family in a little house. She's the author of "Drunk Mom," a memoir, published by Doubleday Canada and HarperCollins Australia. She’s written a couple novels that she hopes will also be published at some future date. For fun she takes weird pictures, usually of herself, because she and herself are on the same page most of the time so it's just easier that way. More from Jowita Bydlowska here.