From the author: Characters in animated television programs do not die after their programs end. In fact, they have lives of their own, far beyond those depicted within their individual series, which are barely touched by their programs. After their series come to ends, they are often at odds as to what they are to do next. Penn, whose own series has come to an end, finds himself in this position, until he meets and befriends a support group for those whose concerns are not unlike his own.
By David Perlmutter
I was the first one there, not wanting to make a bad first impression.
At least, for once, I wasn’t undergoing any of the physical and mental transformations that usually happen when I come into another world, and have to live by the standards of that community. Other people outside of my close friends and family would finally get to see me as I normally am: the one and only, genuine, original Penn.
I only hoped that they liked me.
So far, we knew each other only indirectly, from our work and lives making us only briefly crossing paths before, in life and social media. At least, with me, seeing as how I came on this scene fairly recently, compared to the rest of them.
I honestly hoped that I wouldn’t be the only one there. With my kind of people, you never know exactly when you might run into some of those kind of jerks who are jealous of who we are- or aren’t- and try to beat us up or worse, on account of the fact that we supposedly aren’t “human” and can “take” a lot more punishment than is average. I didn’t necessarily ask to be known as a “cartoon character”, although that’s what I’m known as in this universe, and, even though I don’t act in any way like the stereotypes they think we all are, I was still going to get it if I was by myself here alone in this badly lit, working-class urban neighborhood alone too long.
Gradually, however, they came. About a dozen or so. Looking mostly like I did. Human looking, very much so, despite our origins. Only most of us weren’t, if you know what I mean, and we were all trying to figure out how to settle and live in this universe where we did not originate in, and try to blend in as we somehow belonged in it.
Which did not, in any way, appear like it was going to be a pleasant experience for any of us, if my knowledge of how badly we’d been treated in the past was any yardstick.
I greeted the few I knew and met the ones I hadn’t for a few minutes, and then we got started.
We were all boys. Or young men. Or teenagers. Or young adults. Whatever it is guys between twelve and twenty are known as now. At least, in a respectful way. There are plenty of dis-respectful ways you can refer to us, none of them very nice or accurate, that I won’t repeat here. We’d all been called them more than enough times. Now, we were trying to figure out how we could endure that kind of abuse without going ape on other people when it happened. That’s a dead giveaway for us as opposed to them. Especially regarding the human ladies.
Yet, although we took human shape, size and mannerisms, we were all animated cartoon characters. We all participated in events which, without our knowledge, had been broadcast all over the universe, and our names and likenesses, without our permission, had made a considerable fortune for the companies that made them- and, supposedly, us. It matters more if you were a protagonist or title character, as I was, than a supporting character, but we all know we were equally hurt, and we bonded over the resentment that built up from that hurt. For, as soon as we no longer mattered to those companies, they destroyed the worlds we came from and cast us off to fend for ourselves in a “real” world we did not understand, and could not comprehend how we could ever be part of. Not a single word of apology, and no way in hell of coming back where we came.
Fuck you, CIA.
But we discovered who we were and who we really are that way. And found ways to help us ourselves.
Such as this support group.
The other members had mostly been supporting characters, and so did not have so much of themselves exposed. I, however, had been a lead, and therefore had more of myself exposed than the others.
And thus, possibly, more to deal with. All the bits of my life exposed, public knowledge, with no way of bringing it back to being just private, as it should be.
How was I supposed to deal with that?
Tino, our group leader, set the tone for the events when he first addressed us.
“When I got the idea to do this,” he said, “I wanted it to be a friendly spot where we didn’t have to deal with all the stiff-upper-lip stuff we have to put up with being men. You know, play through the pain, boys don’t cry, and all that crap. Plus all that stuff about guys who are always bragging about how much of a “man” they are. All that stuff about how good I am at sports, how big my dick and balls are, how long I can sustain an erection, how many girls I did this week. None of that! I’m not that kind of guy and I’ve never been one of them. And I’ll bet none of you have been one, either.”
We all nodded, because he spoke the truth. None of us were. Because, most of the time at least, we knew being that kind of guy didn’t get you anywhere in life. Especially not now.
“I thought so,” Tino responded. “We’re all the kind of guy who defies those stereotypes. Who respects girls and women ‘cause he knows how they really are. Who actually has something of a brain in his head, and is smart enough to know how to think his way out of situations, rather than punch or kick. Who couldn’t play sports if his life depended on it. And, particularly, thinks about people other than himself sometimes, and what his actions and words might do to hurt them. Am I right?”
We all nodded again. Again, he spoke the truth.
“And we’ve all got a big strike against us,” he concluded. “We were all torn asunder from the worlds we knew inside and out, where we were, though not kings or masters, at least in some form or fashion, in control of our destinies. Here, we are rootless, vagabonds at best, fugitives from the law at the worst of times, because our noble republican venture to gain some political control over our lives here has been stereotyped as “terrorism” by the establishment. We, as the young gentlemen of the group, get derided as “punks” and “delinquents”, when that’s not the case at all. Only our oldest and dearest friends and our families know the kind of people we really are. But even they can’t help us with everything. Many of our female acquaintances are smart and caring, sure. But they don’t know our minds at the deepest core- just as, for all our fumbling and bumbling attempts at it, we will never know theirs.
“I’m not saying that the girls don’t have their issues, or that our colleagues, the so-called “funny” animals, don’t, either. They got their own groups, and that’s what caused me to think up this notion. Because only a man knows how a man really feels about things. And a lot of men are afraid of revealing their true thoughts and fears, because they think they’ll get mocked for being “sensitive” or being a girl in a jockstrap.
“Not here. Not now. Not ever. We’re going to be here for each other, listen to each other, and figure out how we can get further and forward together. And without any of that nasty hateful and discriminatory stuff in the process. Are we clear on that?”
“Good. So: you got anything on your minds you want to share with us?”
So we went forward.
Some of us had girls we were sweet on that we wanted to, at least indirectly, indicate we had feelings about, without risking the massive wrath that is feminine anger should our discussion be misinterpreted.
“We’re not talking about sex here,” Tino reminded us.
“I didn’t ask about that,” Dipper said, with a reddened face.
“Besides,” added Sheldon, bitterly, “none of us is exactly qualified in that area, are we?”
We all had to admit we weren’t.
“I… just don’t know how to how to tell her how I feel,” Dipper continued. “I mean, anything else I know about and am into I can talk to other people about for hours. But this….” He shuddered. “I’ve seen and heard a lot of weird crap, but this is harder to face than any of that. And plus I got the obstacle of me being younger than her, besides.”
“You love somebody older than you?” Brad said, as if this was something he’d never heard of, and probably hadn’t.
“Not by too much,“ Dipper clarified. “Only by a couple of years. But, at our ages, that’s like a chasm.” He took off his cap and briefly revealed the astrological pimple birthmark on his head that had given him his name as he wiped sweat off his brow before putting it back on. “So that’s been the big obstacle. We’re friendly and all that. Can’t go through big adventures and stuff without those sort of things happening. But if I’d only been the same age as her, or even older….”
“So, I’m assuming she’s attractive, then?” said Ron.
“Damn yes!” said Dipper, shaking his head.
“Most of us are in your boat with you, Dipper,” Sheldon said, wistfully. “We happen to make the acquaintance of an attractive young woman of our generation, and we fall blatantly in love with her, and, no matter what we say or do to her, she brushes us off.” Suddenly, he became angered and bitter again. “Or, worse, she doesn’t even realize we love her. And they think we can be dumb about that stuff.”
“But it can happen,” Ron chimed in. “Kim and I were friends for a long time before we started dating. We got used to each other growing up. It just wasn’t until later on that there was something beyond that.”
“On the other hand,” said Tino, “it can be a disadvantage. Take my case. Two of my oldest and dearest friends are two of the best specimens of girls I know off. One of them is an excellent athlete, even if she does have not too much in the way of brains, whereas the other one is first class in brains and doesn’t mind letting you know about it. But, because I’ve come to know them so well, I know exactly how each of them would react if I tried to hit on them. One of them would beat me up- soundly- and the other would inform me not only that I was a scuzzball for trying it, but that I made countless social, moral and grammatical errors committing my mistaken behavior in the process!”
“That sounds like somebody I know,” I said. “Only they’re one person, rather than two.”
“You see?” said Tino. “This is something we all deal with. We all know girls who are better than us in some way- more attractive, more intelligent, faster, stronger. And we’re conflicted. The animal part of our brain wants to get down with them, but the social part of us knows for damn sure that, if we even try, we’ll pay the consequences for it in some way. And so we have to find some way of living with them that works for both of us. And we settle for friendship, for the most part. And there’s nothing wrong with that. You get to be friends with a great girl, and never once have to worry about the icky stuff.”
“Besides,” said Brad, “I think they worry about the icky stuff enough for both of us. That’s why they can be hands-off so much.”
“And it’s not like sex is supposed be so exciting to start with,” I reminded everyone. “In virtually every other species, it’s just meant to make sure that the species survives. Nothing else. We’re the only ones who turn into a sport, or a game. Why shouldn’t we be the same as everyone else?”
That brought the conversation on that topic to an end.
But, on the next topic, my temper got the better of me, sad to say.
We were all, in some way or another, trying to come to terms with our past existences in our old worlds. Some of us had been through a lot. Our lives, and those of our friends and family, had been threatened multiple times. We had been forced to make difficult decisions about our relationships with the aforesaid friends and family. We had seen, heard and encountered things our mortal human brethren had never once dealt with, nor even thought of. And yet, on many of those occasions, the future of the universe- every part of it-was at stake in our actions, whether we knew it or not.
Sheldon was addressing us about how he felt that, for all his scientific and engineering skills, he was neglected in the world he had come from, and that he felt better now, now that he could contribute to the Cartoon Republican Army, the larger political organization of which we are a part, as a more active member of it than he was allowed to be where he came from. He did everything but openly dismiss where he came from, where he felt he had been made to feel useless. That his “manhood” had been taken from him, and that he was, essentially, a walking joke.
That enraged me. I got up out of my chair so quickly that the others were all deeply startled.
“NO!” I said. “I will not sit down idly and let you say that!”
“Say what, Penn?” asked Sheldon.
“That your life there was useless,” I said. “It wasn’t. It was as valuable as it was here.”
“You weren’t there, though,” said Sheldon. “How would you know? Were you ever as tested and humiliated as I was there, having my thoughts and desires denied me all the time?”
“Of course I was tested and humiliated,” I answered. “We all were. But how we responded to it helped us form how we responded to further problems. And became the men we are today.”
“So,” Sheldon said, “you’re saying I failed being a man?”
“No,” I said, softly, realizing I had given offense. “I’m sorry. I didn’t….”
Sheldon put his head on the table and cried. Tino fastened a severe look at me.
“You hurt his feelings, Penn,” he said. “You don’t know him too well, so I can forgive that. But don’t let it happen again, okay?”
“Sure,” I said, ashamed of myself.
We spoke a little more on other things, and then the meeting broke up, with a promise to reconvene later. Before I left, I made it a point to find Sheldon and apologize to him. Since he was high up in the CRA ranks and I, for the moment, wasn’t, I felt it only fair.
“So you didn’t mean it?” he said.
“Of course I didn’t,” I told him. “It’s the most terrible thing a man can say to another man. It’s even worse than being smacked down romantically.”
“I came to know that very bluntly,” he replied, smiling knowingly.
“Listen,” I said. “Where I’ve been and what I’ve done, I came and went in a lot of places. A lot of alternate universes, where I was expected to be the one who turned things right. Being the “hero” of those realms, even if I wasn’t totally up for it that day. So there was always a lot I had to take in right at the moment of entry, without a lot of time to digest it. Sometimes I’d basically be like I usually am, and that was fine. But other times, I’d have to be something really different. Tiny, big, menacing, even feminine.”
“Hell, yes! In one of those trips, I had to dress up like a princess, and pretend to be one!”
“And sing all the time while I did it.”
“Who made you do that?”
“My bosses. See, they had no control over what I became when I got into those things. They expected me and my pals to go in cold and deal and fix the problem. All the time.”
“So how come you did it?”
“It was kind of the family business. My parents did it before they got lost.”
“They disappeared doing one of those jobs. I’m still trying to find them. No luck there.”
“Well, we part company that way. I’d like it if my parents gave me some space to breathe!”
We laughed at that one.
“Penn,” he said, “when you came in here, with you being fresh out of your world and not in this one much, I was worried you were going to be one of those stuck-up types, with nothing to contribute. But I was so damn wrong.”
“You think?” I said.
“Sure,” he said. “Maybe we could use some of your past experience to help us out now. You being a multiple-times “hero” and all.”
“I’ll gladly give what I can,” I said, putting my hand on his shoulder as we walked off into the night. “Anything to make things better for us all. And I mean us all.”
This story originally appeared in Original to this site.