INVADER ZIM Fact #21

These ZIM facts are old enough to drink now, eh?  Pretty crazy to think that just a few weeks ago they were still chubby and new and crawling around on the carpet, shitting everywhere and almost suffocating to death when we left it in the parking lot while getting pizza.  Soon they’ll be shitting themselves again, I guess, only not nearly as cute, and smelling of death.

But let’s focus on the positive, please.  Let’s not get bogged down in gloomy thoughts.  ZIM Facts is still vital enough, still able to throw the ol’ ball around without needing to take so many “breathers”, and pretending it’s just a cramp and not really a ruptured lung or something.

So today’s falls on a Sunday, and we all have better things to do, right?  I know I do.  I’ve got a friend coming over and we’re gonna try to make new flavors of tea with things that aren’t actually tea, like pencil shavings and cereal flakes.  I watched Ratatouille again recently and I got to thinking that maybe I have that ability to pair flavors and sensations in such a way as to create some pretty great stuff.  So far everything I’ve made has made me throw up to where it really hurts, but I’m not giving up.  Never give up, that’s what I always say.  Shut the hell up and taste it.  That’s another thing I say.

So in light of that, of how busy we all are, me with my inventing and you with your occupying space, how about we all just agree that today’s ZIM Fact be mercifully brief.  Let’s shake on it.  Now let’s try a cup of my new shredded beef tea to seal the deal.  Let’s call the hospital now.

Okay, so you know how certain offices would have mascots?  You ever work at a place and there’d be a dog or a cat or a goldfish or something that was always there, either someone’s pet or a cloud of rats because one of your co-workers was a nosferatu or something?  I saw on the behind the scenes videos of Uncharted that Naughty Dog had a little bulldog or something, a French bulldog maybe.  We were not so literal as that on our show, but we did have a pet mascot for the show.

FACT:

We had a little Chinese boy as our INVADER ZIM office mascot.

Little Clarence Wong, age nine, came in, probably on one of those animation studio tours that I’ve mentioned before, and just ended up hanging around.  Nobody was ever able to get a straight story out of the kid, and when I’d ask him he’d just go on and on with the kind of stories only kids could make up, stuff about how board artist Chris Graham followed he and his parents out to the parking structure after their tour and “cut mommy and daddy’s throats like they were pigs”.  Pretty sophisticated stuff for someone his age!  I’d just tussle his hair and laugh, getting back to work, making sure to deadbolt the door to the unused storage closet where Chris kept him so that he wouldn’t wander around and hurt himself or get in the way of our daily operations.

I figured t was best to keep the kid around until somebody came to claim him, so Clarence just became part of daily life there in the office, his constant pounding on the walls of his closet often lulling us to relaxation on those days where things got just a bit too stressful to handle without the kind of pounding on walls that you get only from wailing Chinese children.

For a time there we had put up lost posters on phone poles and streetlights around the studio, but nobody claimed the kid as theirs.  I know that if I was a kid and my parents just forgot about me I’d be pretty upset about it, so we did what we could to cheer the kid up.  One day we even let him sit in on one of the many police investigations in and around the studio, letting him watch as the latest corpses, an Asian couple found dead and nearly headless in their car in the parking structure.  It was just a thing that seemed to happen a lot at Nickelodeon around the time we were producing INVADER ZIM, and just as suddenly as shit like that began, the weirdness stopped when we got canceled.

You try making a cartoon show while constantly under investigation.

Clarence loved it, though. I remember letting him sit on my shoulders to watch as that couple was wheeled out, uncovered, the gristle keeping their heads from just falling off completely clearly visible in the bright sunlight of the top level.  Now, I remember being a wee one, and I know I loved watching police cars go by or even just marveling at helicopters, but the way Clarence would woop and holler at the sight of these little cleanup jobs, this one in particular, you’d think it was the Fourth of July for this kid.  He’d claw at my head and scream and beg the police to take him with them and we’d just laugh and laugh.  Not everything on the production was stressful.  Having Clarence around reminded us that sometimes you just have to take it easy and enjoy the silly things.

Clarence was probably a lot easier to maintain than most office mascots, too, in that he’d really only eat one thing and that thing only.  None of us on the crew really knew much about taking care of kids, so initially there was a bit of back and forth as to what to to feed Clarence.  The kid had started quieting down in a way that worried us, feebly moaning instead of screaming himself hoarse like he usually did, blacking out from exhaustion.

“I know kids.” Aaron Alexovich said, his thick Russian accent almost impossible to decipher. Aaron at the time was a cleanup artist who eventually got promoted to lead character designer, but back then he was still just a lowly cleanup artist, wearing the bright orange jumpsuit that designated him as such.

That settled that.  Aaron didn’t speak much, but when he did it was usually about something he was no doubt an expert on, and if he said he knew kids then the guy was probably the best for the job.

I don’t know if they still do it at the studio, but when we were around, every Friday, they’d shell out for lunches to be served by local restaurants.  Decent stuff, too!  One time, while carting all of the containers and stuff out, one of the caterer people stumbled and spilled an entire tub of mashed potatoes all over the main lobby floor.  The janitor came out, and started mopping  the mess up, but stopped when Aaron grabbed the mop away from him, leaning it against the wall.

“What you doing?” Aaron asked, sounding about as irritated as Aaron could sound with his generally monotone voice.  ”Mashed potatoes.” he finished before getting down on the ground and eating the entire spill up, soapy water and all.  There wasn’t a spot left on that carpet, and to this day I still hear from friends who work at the studio that it’s the cleanest spot in the whole place.

So, of course, nobody was surprised when Aaron’s solution was the right solution.  Every hour on the hour, Aaron took it upon himself to feed Clarence these mac’n'cheese tubes that he seemed to have an unending supply of.

You ever have a push-up pop?  It was like those, only stuffed with mac’n'cheese that you’d syringe into your face I guess.  It was actually pretty beautiful, the compassion of it all.  I’d sometimes sit in on these feeding sessions, watching as Aaron would push the stuff into Clarence’s squirming head, the way you’d feed a baby bird with an eyedropper, only with an eyedropper filled with macaroni and day-glow looking cheese.  Clarence would be crying at the start of these sessions, but toward the end of the tube he’d be limp, eyes rolled up into his head, just fucking loving the stuff.

The way Clarence would suck those things down we never even bothered trying out other stuff that he’d maybe dig.  For the two years we had the little guy, from morning to quitting time Aaron would blast one of those mac’n'cheese tubes into his mouth.

It was a good thing Aaron had what must have been a warehouse space full of those things, too, as the company had gone out of business around that time, something about their product not passing certain health and safety codes.  We never told Clarence about his favorite snack treat no longer being in production during his lucid moments between injections, and there really wasn’t any reason to, what with Aaron keeping the kid happy with more of the stuff than any one human being had ever been subjected to.

I didn’t have to watch it happen to know it was feeding time, either.  Every hour on the hour the entire south side of the building would be treated to the clockwork sound of Aaron’s “FEED CHINESE BOY MACARONI TUBE.”  Bless that guy.  Seriously, with all the work he did to make our show look as good as it did on days when it didn’t look like total and complete shit, he didn’t need to help take care of Clarence, but he did, and don’t think that didn’t factor into his upward movement later in the show’s run.

Just try to imagine how crushed he was the day we lost Clarence.

The screams from outside are what alerted us to something being wrong.

The Burbank studios building, featuring Cheese Man and a little girl.

We ran out to the front of the building where the sidewalk ran alongside the outer wall that surrounded the studio.  These were civilians, non animation types just walking past the studio the way regular, showered people do.  They were all looking up and pointing, up to where the famous Nickelodeon character statues stood.  There’s no ZIM or GIR up there, but I think they did throw a few of the action figures up there.

The passers-by said they had seen a “goblin” up there amongst the cartoon characters.  Those days that could have meant anything, with that description covering plenty of crew members.  I was just about to ask them to be a bit more specific when the screams went up again.  I looked up.

It was Clarence.

He had lost his ability to speak about halfway during his stay with us, something to do with the day-glow polyps that had covered almost the entirety of his inner throat.  His distress was obvious, even from down where I stood, even through the mask of chitinous, day glow growths that covered much of his body and face.

There was no mistaking the anguish in the cry that he let out, the growing crowds below recoiling from the nauseating wave of air that blasted into them from the depths of Clarence’s lungs, like being hit by a phantom locomotive of macaroni, carrying cheese ghosts.

As much as I wanted to vomit the way everyone around me was vomiting, I had no choice but to position myself for the obvious.

Clarence meant to jump.

As hard as we tried to keep the kid happy throughout his stay with us, we had failed somehow, and I was looking at a future of wondering where I myself had gone wrong.

“CLARENCE!  NO!  PLEASE DON’T JUMP!” I cried. And I mean it.  I was crying my fucking eyes out. I loved that kid.  Hell, we ALL loved that kid, and to see him like this was just the biggest heartbreak, let alone imagining a world without him at all, but that was the world he opted for.

Little Clarence jumped.  Now, I’m not a big guy, certainly not the type you’d imagine catching ladies jumping from burning buildings without breaking every bone in my body.

But that sort of thing doesn’t cross your mind when someone you love is what’s dropping down to your outstretched arms with Spongebob’s leering face looming just behind.

Arms breaking was not a factor I had to worry about, it turned out, as Clarence simply broke apart on impact with my arms.  Really, it was like somebody had dropped a human shaped blob of tiramisu into my arms from the roof, his body so rotted and held together by cheese that it was a miracle he was able to move around of his own power before this point.

When the sickened people finally looked up from retching, it was with perplexed faces as they wondered where their “goblin” had disappeared to.  Really, he was just indistinguishable from the vomit all around them.  Clarence was no more.

We got a guinea pig after that but he died after a week.

Ah, well, so much for mercifully short, yeah?  But sometimes the truth takes its time.

–ZIM FACTS. Here’s why—