Travels with Winkie
Clifford Chase pens a satire for terror-filled times

by Joe Foster

Winkie, written by Clifford Chase; 240 pages; Grove Press

Times are passing strange, are they not? A polarized republic, our country straddles a gray line that separates reason from faith, cynic-sight from zealot-blindness, free-thinkers from "patriots." We are currently at war with an emotion. People from both sides of the line call those from the other side "idiots" and "Nazis." I once heard a guy from Texas (of all places) say that, politically, he stood somewhere left of Che. I wouldn't say I lean quite that far, or that I really even know what that means, but I'd call myself a liberal. You know, one of those campus-commies who was brain-washed by our nation's liberal humanities departments. Call it what you will, but as a leftie I find current events, i.e. the "War on Terror," staggering and disgusting and completely lacking in all but the basest impulses of humanity. In Winkie, by Clifford Chase, I found a surprising and beautiful slice of the very best aspects of humanity in the form of an ugly, mangy teddy bear that stands accused of being a terrorist.

Yeah, you heard me right, or read me right. Winkie, a teddy bear that has undergone an epic journey from mere passive sentience to a more dynamic and involved existence in a nameless forest, is considered the greatest threat to democracy the world has ever faced. An interesting premise that definitely lives up to its preposterous promise, this short book surprised the hell outta me by being absolutely nothing of what I expected.

Winkie follows the expected plotline in which the bear is intimidated, abused, handed a complete idiot of a lawyer (named Unwin), and tried by a judge and jury ready to execute him before the trial begins. He's accused of 9,678 counts of terrorism, including demonic witchcraft, sodomy, impersonating a woman, etc. A composite sketch of the suspected terrorist from FBI case files showed a Una-bomber-like old man, which the FBI shrugged off, saying that Winkie was quite obviously a


master of disguise. The not-so-funniest moment of the trial comes when the prosecution, after presenting its case, moved to end the trial and goes ahead with the execution of Winkie, instead of hearing his defense. The trial and confinement of the little bear is disturbingly funny and sick, and reeks of the hubris that brought us Guantanamo.

Behind all of this, though, is the poignant story of a creature created to be loved, needed and with the passage of time, eventually cast aside and ignored. Winkie was passed along the Chase family tree (the bear is based on the author's childhood teddy bear) for generations. As each child grows older, they cast the bear aside for more mature things, leaving the bear alone and unloved for years until the next tike comes along. I think the movie "Toys" had a similar theme. (Yeah, I've seen it. The day you're too old to watch cartoons is the day you're too old to enjoy life.) After Winkie is finally cast aside for the last time, completely abandoned, he simply decides he's finished sitting around. He stands up, throws a book through a window, jumps to the ground and begins, for the first time in 80 some years, to experience the world. In his first few days, Winkie learns to eat and sleep, scares the hell out of a near-sighted baby-talking old lady, and discovers one of the most unsung joys of existence: taking a healthy dump.

He makes his way through neighborhoods to far green mountains where, nesting by a stream - well, I don't want to ruin what I felt was the pivotal moment of the book, so I'll just say that Winkie's life becomes both beautiful and meaningful at last. It is this moment that brings a self-exiled ex-professor with a sadistic agenda into Winkie's life, leading eventually to Winkie's capture and ludicrous trial.

I know it sounds bizarre, and it is. Gulliver's Travels was considered preposterous when it was released but stands today as one of the most scathing and brilliant political satires ever written. Besides, aren't you tired of reading the same book over and over? It's the intelligent uniqueness of this book that makes it worth reading. I admit to being drawn to novels that are unlike any other. I hear people, usually stuffy scholar-types, say that all the stories have already been told and any new stories are regurgitations of the old tales. This line of thought merely serves to discount the vast potential of the human imagination; the kind of imagination it took to conceive of a book like Winkie. Check it out, you'll be as pleasantly surprised as I was, I think. •