“Vintage Dakin 1980 Japanese Artists SO Black Cat Silvan,” the listing says, “He has a slight musky odor but due to his age I do not want to wash him–he was surface washed with disinfectant wipe and sprayed with allergen spray lightly.” Next to the description is the price: $179.10. In another auction with a similar discription, Silvan is wearing a Santa hat and the seller is asking for $129.
I was looking for a gag gift for my sister’s 30th birthday, which happens to be today. It was an old tradition of ours–give a “cheesy gift” with a real gift for birthdays and Christmas–that we gave up a couple of years ago after running out of good ideas that weren’t going to cost too much money. I brought it back because when your younger sister turns 30, you bust her chops as much as possible.
Finding her gift meant combing eBay for something that was appropriate or reflected whatever idiotic inside jokes we’ve shared over the years. I spend the better part of an evening doing so, and in the midst of my searching, I typed in “Silvan cat” and found the listings I described above.
Had I been able to afford such a high-priced stuffed animal, I’m sure I would have sent it her way because she would have laughed her ass off (I know she did when I sent her the link to the auction). Back when we were kids, Nancy had a menagerie of stuffed animals, most of which were gifts from grandparents and other relatives, and with the exception of some Pound Puppies or various stuffed Garfields and Odies, none of them were really from a series or line of characters. Most, I believe, were purchased at random from toy stores or stationery stores. Silvan, however, was a little bit different and wound up being a little more important.
A fat black cat that looked like he might be Japanese, at least to a little kid who had no idea what “cultural sensitivity” might be, my sister spotted Silvan at Unique Stationery (later known as Sayville Card and Gift) when she was about four or five years old. He sat on the stuffed animal display that was the final dividing line between the store’s inventory of magazines, comic books, and toys; and what seemed like endless aisles of American Greetings cards. There were many Silvans on the display that he shared with his girlfriend, Sylvia, and they were large, medium, and small-sized. She was clearly drawn to him and would go to see him every time we were in the store while I went and drooled over the various Lionbot toys.
Now, if you’ve ever had to buy a kid a specific stuffed animal, you probably know that it is one of the hardest things in the world to do if you do not do it the exact moment he or she asks you for it. Animals like Silvan, while manufactured by a large company, Dakin, were not exactly widely distributed in mass quantities to stores like Toys R Us. And if they were, you had to be really lucky to actually find what you were looking for. Seeing Silvan on the shelf at Unique was not like me asking for Skeletor one Christmas and my parents (and aunts and uncles, probably) searching every toy store in the tri-state area for the figure. They more than likely had to buy early and hide it away.
Amazingly, that’s exactly what they did. On Christmas morning in either 1984 or 1985, while my mother stood at the bottom of the stairs taking our picture, Nancy and I looked out at the living room with all of its presents and sitting near the Christmas tree, in front of the wingbacked chairs, was Silvan. And for the rest of the day, she was attached to it, although I honestly don’t know how much she moved around considering that at that age, Nancy was not that tall and I think Silvan was half her size.
But she was old enough to actually make her animals have some character. I mean, for the most part, it meant holding her stuffed mouse Morton in my face and going “Ne ne ne ne ne” until I wanted to slap her, but my son does similar things with his stuffed animals so I really can’t fault her too much. Anyway, she tended to give her stuffed animals individual voices and Silvan quickly became known as “Shish” and spoke in an Eric Cartman-style voice (a full decade before Trey Parker and Matt Stone gave the world Eric Cartman). He also, whenever the two of us played with him, had a major flatulence problem.
Why is it that at the age of eight, nine, or ten, making fart noises or machine gun-sounding poop noises is the funniest thing in the world? Okay, considering that I spend my day with fifteen year olds who do the same thing I shouldn’t really be asking that question, but I’m sure that a child psychologist would have had a field day with every time our pretend play had a storyline (and I mean storylines — you could put them up on a plot diagram if you wanted) wherein Shish’s butt was out of control and it was up to the rest of the stuffed animals to confront this scatalogical nightmare and save the world … or at least our basement.
When Shish wasn’t pooping, he was being used as a weapon. Since he was the size of your average pillow and had a tail, my friends and I found it fun to swing him around by the tail and launch him at one another. He was a pretty effective weapon, too. Shish was not light and fluffy and since he was packed pretty dense, he was a pretty obese cat, so throwing him at someone’s head had the effect of either knocking him back or at least stunning him until you could deliver the death blow with … oh, I don’t know, a large bear or a pillow. In fact, if the move were a sanctioned wrestling move, we would have called him “The Wrecking Ball.”
That is, until swinging him around one too many times caused his tail to rip off, which happened so many times courtesy of my friends and I that my mother finally sewed up the hole where the tail used to be and we threw the tail into a plastic bin, although we would use it for a microphone when we lip synched in the basement to the latest hits by Starship.
But he was more than just an obese feline weapon. When not being hurled about or begging for Pepto Bismol, Shish had an alter-ego: Supershish. We took the cape from the homemade Superman costume I wore for Halloween when I was in preschool and put it on him so he could fly around saving the other stuffed animals from danger. And just to drive home the point that he was fighting a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the stuffed animal way, we would put Superman: The Movie on, crank the volume on the opening credits, and film him flying about the living room while John Williams played in the background.
I even, at one point, drew a few issues of a Supershish comic book. Granted, “draw” is a complete overstatement because my artistic ability is more or less to this day, completely nonexistant. But Shish wasn’t exactly hard to draw and I could handle drawing him flying, saving other animals, using heat vision … whatever the plot called for, a big oval with ears and feet could do it. Not that the comic actually had an original plot or anything. If I recall correctly, the Supershish comic series centered around Silvan Kent’s girlfriend, Sylvia Lane, was kidnapped by some evil bear or something and Supershish had to save her.
As Nancy and I got older and our toys were donated away or handed down to other kids in our neighborhood, Silvan found other uses, usually as a pillow. Sylvia, whom my sister had in a smaller size (and whom we called Sheesh, and goes for a considerably less $75 on eBay), did not fare as well because my mom washed her and ran her through the dryer one time, which caused her fur to be the consistency of sandpaper. She went the way of the trash bin; however, Silvan–Shish–remains in my parents’ basement, flat as a pancake, looming over any other leftover toys in the toy closet.
I’m can’t believe what I’m more amazed by: that Silvan goes for so much on eBay (especially considering the teddy bear I’ve had since I was an infant only goes for $14.99) or that someone actually had one and preserved it for nearly 30 years. That takes serious commitment because unlike an action figure, stuffed animals wear down, get ripped, and eventually smell like armpit. But that’s what they’re supposed to do. They’re supposed to get you through nights with monsters in closets and the flu and heartache and other things. And if you’re lucky, they can save the world.