November 15, 2005

Walking through plastic

During my visit to Windy Midwestern City with an Art Institute and at least one Very Tall Building, ArtistFriend insisted on making me walk through Weird Fake Jungle Cafe, a most bizarre place. I am not sure why he inflicted this experience on me, except that he likes to see my horrified reaction to such things. (He tortured me during lunch, for instance, by retelling in graphic detail the story of that time in Hungary when he helped to slaughter a pig -- and drank raw congealed blood.) Chicago Friend, who was walking around the city with us, kept rolling his eyes as ArtistFriend stubbornly led us through the door.

And yes, it was the most bizarre restaurant I've ever been in. The whole place was decorated with an overwhelming amount of plastic greenery that made me think I had shrunk and gone to Woolworth's. Amidst the splendor of trailing fake leaves lived animals that were partially animated in the strangest way. The big elephant, for example, had ears that flapped. But sadly, he could move no other body part. If I were an elephant and I could choose only one body part to move, I don't think it would be my ears.

A waterfall of real water splashed down into a pool that boasted an alligator. Or perhaps it was a crocodile. I sometimes have trouble properly identifying wildlife when it's plastic. Near the entrance a big snake curled down from the ceiling, its tongue flicking out. I jumped when I saw the damned snake, but ArtistFriend, who is much taller and more oblivious than your average customer, strolled by so casually that he nearly got whacked in the head by a fake snake aimed right at his temple. The snake had this tongue that flicked in and out in a way that was oddly hypnotic.

I've been to a real rainforest, a jungle in Puerto Rico filled with green light, frequent rain showers, lush vegetation, waterfalls surging over rock, and a humid earthy smell. The plastic version, which consisted of all kinds of fake plants and animals hanging from the ceiling, was dark and oppressive. I felt like I had stumbled upon the big warehouse of misfit plastic decorations. Surprisingly, it smelled not like plastic but like hamburgers and french fries. As I gazed about, just staring at the weirdness of it all, Woman From London began telling us about her experience watching American television.

"It's a bit overwhelming," she said, "Buy this! Have more sugar! More caffeine! Buy this!"

The one good thing about the Weird Fake Jungle Cafe was that, unlike many of the jazz bars in the city, it was smoke free. Yet, somehow, I still had trouble breathing. After five minutes of gawking, I was more than happy to follow my friends out the door. Of course, we had to walk through a gift shop to get out. That is the American way.

31 comments:

halloweenlover said...

I know weird fake jungle cafe of which you speak. Meh, its alright. Nothing special, and yes, I feel the only redeeming quality is that children seem to love it.

peripateticpolarbear said...

I'm with you on this one.

negativecapability said...

The first time I went to one of these, it was in Las Vegas. It seemed more appropriate there, as everything in Las Vegas is the weird fake something-or-other.

The one that you're talking about is one block up and across the street from my parent's apartment building. We like to sit on the balcony and check people out with the binoculars.

Not Scott said...

I wrote about this particular chain while writing about weird, semi-real, semi-fake amusement park. I had a lot of scathing, bitterly funny remarks that sadly got cut from the final product. I'm still looking for some way to get those pages worked into some other paper.

The great thing about these fake natures is seeing how they embody the amazingly screwed up narratives and mythologies surrounding "nature." If one wants to understand the American concept of nature, one must visit weird fake jungle land and look just as closely as one would look at Arcadia, Yosemite or Yellowstone.

Or at least that's what I've been trying to make a living on.

Mona Buonanotte said...

We've been in the Weird Fake Jungle Cafe in the Windy Midwestern City, and it scared the heck outta the kids. And they screamed for us to buy them FAKE FAKE animals...stuffed versions of the poor frozen elephant with animated ears. Damn the mother-in-law for honoring their requests.

We should have gone to that famous pizza place instead.

Ianqui said...

I too have seen Weird Fake Jungle Cafe in another city, and it's...weird.

But I've also been to that same jungle in Puerto Rico (El Yunque? I mean, there are probably others, but that's where I went), and I swear there were people dressed as if they were going to a lunch at Weird Fake Jungle Cafe. Super G and I had a lot of fun laughing at the people wearing flip flops and t-shirts. We were decked out in hiking boots, ponchos, and hoods. I mean, it rains--hard--every 5 minutes. Didn't they even read the guide book?

Needless to say, we had a great day hiking around the rainforest.

Yankee T said...

You would be the LAST person I would take to the Weird Fake Jungle Cafe, a place which of which I have had the distinct pleasure. So sorry. I think it stinks in there.

jo(e) said...

Ianqui: Well, Weird Fake Jungle places do lead us to think of the rainforest as some kind of safe place where we can tramp around in flipflops and sue someone if we get bitten ....

El Yunque is the rainforest I went to in Puerto Rico, but I didn't see many other people when I was there.

Scott: Didn't you say in your Disney chapter that themeing is most successful if it reminds us of a place that doesn't actually exist, something people haven't seen in the original? Perhaps this restaurant relies on the idea that most kids in the midwest have not actually seen a rainforest ....

oliviacw said...

The sad thing is, I once had to make a positive decision to eat at a Wierd Fake Jungle Cafe - I was at a conference with a colleague who was a vegetarian, and WFJC was the only restaurant near Conference City Convention Center that had any kind of vegetarian option.

Cut-Rate Parasite said...

Yes, I think I've been in this WFJC as well. I'm not sure if I found it ridiculous, revolting or frightening. Still not sure. They have one in a city in my part of the country that I went past a few weeks ago when I was at a conference hoping desperately that none of my colleagues would think it was cute to eat there. None did, I'm happy to say.

Rob Helpy-Chalk said...

[sigh] I miss Windy Midwestern City with an Art Institute and at least one Very Tall Building. I'm applying for jobs in Windy Midwestern City with an Art Institute and at least one Very Tall Building right now. Maybe I'll get back.

I love your observation about the elephant that can only move its ears.

jo(e) said...

Rob: You would rather live in the midwest than in beautiful upstate New York?

HAVE YOU LOST YOUR MIND?

Friday Mom said...

We have one of those weird jungle cafes in our fair city. We took SFW once. He hated it. The boy has good taste. We should trust that more often and not inflict these experiences on him. There was nothing redeemable about it. I'm sorry you had to go...what with all the truly good restaurants in Midwestern City!

jo(e) said...

Friday Mom: Oh, we didn't actually eat there. We just strolled through so that Artist Friend could see my horrified reaction. Then we found a nice Mexican restaurant and had a great meal ....

Bad Alice said...

I've been to a Weird Fake Jungle Cafe with a gift shop, in Phoenix, home of weird fake things because the only real thing there is cactus. We actually ate there. I remember nothing except an enormous aquarium arcing over the entrance and forming colunns on either side, and the fact that every now and then thunder would crash, startling me half to death.

Running2Ks said...

Yeah, I was in there to gawk with the kids, and not eat or stay. And not buy souvenirs. I guess there is a reason for those theme restaurants. I'm just not sure what it is.

Miranda said...

You have my condolences. A "friend" told me that I ought to take my children to Weird Fake Jungle Cafe with a gift shop the next time I went to the Mall that Boasts that Walking Around the Hall is One Whole Mile. Besides the noise, tacky decor, and just general aesthetic revulsion, the children's meals were horribly overpriced and I could not find a single thing on the menu to eat as I was a vegan at that point.

That friend is no longer a close one.

listmaker said...

It sounds horrible. At least you weren't forced to eat there.

Scrivener said...

I feel so ignorant. I don't have even the slightest idea what this Weird Fake Jungle Cafe place you talk of is. I'm pretty sure it's not Hard Rock Cafe, but that's the only one of these chain things I can think of.

Oh, I'm such a failure as a consumer of theme-park/chain restaurants! They're going to take away my citizenship, aren't they?

Rob Helpy-Chalk said...

Jo(e): Two words: tenure track. If SLU would give me a tenure track job, I'd stay forever. As it is, my employment here evaporates in a year and a half, so I'm applying for jobs all over.

We've seriously considered staying in Canton after my gig ends. I could do pick up work at the other colleges in the area. We could buy a storefront and sell organic groceries. Something.

CarpeDM said...

I've been to WFJC once. It was okay. I did take some pictures of the outside of WFJC when we were in Vegas because it amused me.

I think my favorite part here is "I sometimes have trouble properly identifying wildlife when it's plastic." Brilliant.

Teri said...

That trouble breathing in the Weird Fake Jungle Cafe? It's from the petrochemicals that the plastic everything emit...

mindspin said...

Love this post. Been there, with kids. Stayed to eat, for kids. Would go back to Windy Midwestern City for a thousand reasons, but not this one.

Nels said...

Jo(e), I love how subtle you are in mentioning this city. But, it's my favorite city on the planet, having earned my PhD there. London is second. And I've been to the restaurant. We have one here in CT, too. I've seen kids run screaming and crying because a moving animal scared them.

will smama said...

Welcome home Jo(e).

Excellent Woolworth's reference. Bottom floor for me.

Anonymous said...

Artist Friend says:
I couldn't breathe in there either, but it was so much fun watching everyone's reactions. Chicago Friend was genuinely, sincerely disgusted, Woman from London was overwhelmed, and you were having a blast, admit it. Jo(e): "This is unbelievable! Look there! What is that! I can't get over this place!" (Jo(e) has a certain natural and endearing giddiness, for those of you who don't know her.) I took you in there cause I figured if anybody could identify that bright kelly green crocodilian, you could. Turns out I was wrong, which made the whole visit a disappointment. I first went in there at the insistence of my 8 yr old son, who promised he would eat everything on his plate if we had dinner there. He ended up being scared our of his appetite, by the way, because of this gorilla that every ten minutes or so would part the plastic leaves, mechanically drop his stiff iron jaw and roar. It would have been impressive except that the roar came from a speaker on the ceiling behind us, not from the gorilla itself. The fish in the big arching aquarium were real, anyway--I think. I had a great time in big city, by the way.

cheesehead said...

Went to WFJC once. It was in Florida...so...there you have it.

CTA, who is now 18 was about 12 at the time. He asked the waitress why on earth they served beef at the WFJC. She did not get it, and was very much Not Amused when he explained why he asked that question.

I love that kid!

jo(e) said...

Smart kid, revmom.

Artist Friend: Come on, let's not blame this on your innocent son. Everyone knows that you've got a fetish for strange plastic animals that wiggle their ears. I still can't believe you dragged me into that awful place against my will. I'm not sure Chicago Friend is ever going to speak to us again. Notice how he disappeared right after that little episode?

The fish in the aquarium might have been real. I wanted to climb in there to see -- and I would have, the tank was plenty big enough -- if you hadn't stopped me. I just don't get your squeamishness about skinny dipping ....

Anonymous said...

Artist Friend says:

I'm squeamish about skinny-dipping because you have to take all your clothes off to do it, and nobody outside of the tiles on my shower needs to be seeing me that way. If I had known YOU wanted to go skinny dipping in a giant goofy acrylic aquarium filled with these unreal colored fish--then by all means, I would have encouraged it. I'd have posted your bail too.

By the way, the coagulated pork blood was gently sauteed with garlic and onions, and I ate it with a fork.

jo(e) said...

Artist Friend: MUST you keep talking about the coagulated pork blood?

If I had known that it was cooked, though, I would not have gagged so much. I think you deliberately with held that information ....

shrinkykitten said...

Please don't hate me -- but now I totally want to go to wfjc! I am totally a kid at heart and love cheesy stuff so much. I went to disneyworld a couple years ago and LOVED it.

snrrmam
(sounds like some sort of hippie drug reference)