Cardboard Brian* and I met at a ski shop in Colorado. He was hanging out by the front door, smiling indiscriminately at passersby. I instantly fell for his charming, goofy, lopsided grin. The shop employee said he wasn't for sale, but he let me take him home anyway.
I was drawn to Cardboard Brian because he slightly resembles my real life boyfriend — they have the exact same hairstyle and cartoon-like facial features. But shortly after I brought him back to my hotel room, I began to feel like Cardboard Brian was taking on a life of his own. While Real Brian sat at his computer chatting away on AIM with his buddies, Cardboard Brian sat next to me on the couch and we watched The Wedding Planner together, both of us with smiles on our faces. I was genuinely enjoying his company.
This past Saturday, my real boyfriend was in Pacifica all day with a surf buddy, so I decided to take Cardboard Brian out with me instead. I placed him upright on my passenger seat and off we went. My first stop was the neighborhood yarn store — I needed to get some materials for a hat I'm making for my friend's newborn. I walked into the shop, holding Cardboard Brian gingerly by the head, and spent a good half hour looking at all the beautiful textures and colors of yarn. Baby blue merino or apaca-wool blend? Knit or crochet? I found myself asking Cardboard Brian simple questions that came to mind. Maybe I'm making it up, but I feel like he advised me to crochet in baby blue merino, so I went with that.
We made a quick stop at the bank. As I stood in the teller line, a couple of guys stared at Cardboard Brian, whom I had tucked neatly underneath my armpit. Cardboard Brian just stared right back and stuck his tongue out at them.
I often drive around town with my dog Ruby in the passenger seat. Since she's always staring at me, I talk to her about the weather, my itinerary for the day, the next story I'm working on…. just day-to-day chatter that passes through my busy head. Talking to Cardboard Brian was similar to that; he's much less reactive than Ruby is, but at the end of the day, both entail talking to an activity partner that can't really talk back. Is it as engaging as talking to a real human? Not exactly. But in a way, it's more satisfying because I can let all my social barriers go — I don't have to worry about whether I'm being boring or rude. It's refreshing.
It was a beautiful afternoon, so Cardboard Brian and I decided to take the dogs to the beach. Let me rephrase: I decided we should take the dogs to the beach. Cardboard Brian just smiled agreeably. We walked idly down the shoreline, hand on head, listening to the waves break and smiling at the dogs as they galloped from one washed up chunk of seaweed to the next. We stayed like this until Real Brian showed up and asked me what I was doing carrying Cardboard Brian around at the beach. "You weren't around, so I brought him instead," I told him. We took a few pictures together — me and Cardboard Brian, Real Brian and Cardboard Brian — and left as the sun began to set.
Of course, there's a downside to having a cardboard boyfriend. Cardboard Brian doesn't like to eat — I'm a food-lover at heart, so I find it hard to relate to his apathy for the culinary arts. He doesn't have a job and probably never will, which is a big turnoff. Since we can't procreate, it's hard to imagine starting a family and spending the rest of my life with him. (Well, maybe I can spend the rest of my life with him, but I have a feeling he'd end up in the closet.) He also takes up a surprising amount of room on the bed, even though he's only 18 inches in diameter. And he's not cuddly. Also, I'd never say this to his face, but he's a bit bland. Even though he kept pretty good company for a piece of paper, I have to admit I was a little bored.
After spending an entire day with a cardboard surrogate boyfriend, I decided to retire him to the office wall as decoration. As relaxing as it was to hang out with Cardboard Brian for a day, I think I'll stick with the Real, Complicated Brian and the joys and challenges he brings… at least for now.
*Cardboard Brian is actually the mascot of a snowboarding brand called Neff.