Señor Tico

A journey of self-discovery with an orange dinosaur piñata.

Editors’ note: Names have been changed.

We found Señor Tico in the Party Works off of the Needham exit of Route 128 in Massachusetts. He was on the shelf with the other piñatas, in between the Mardi Gras beads and the cheap plastic toys that kids collect like currency but parents trip over in the living room. The frill around his head, his stubby legs, and his rotund orange body suggested he was a triceratops, though he had a single green horn, not the anatomically-accurate three, protruding from his forehead.

Among the monkeys, the ducks, and even the other dinosaurs, Señor Tico stood out. His half-shut purple eyelids and his gaping mouth emphasized his lethargy, his boredom of sitting there on the shelf with the other crepe paper creatures, his potential for a grander life. He needed adventure, we decided, and it was our duty to save him.

It was the spring of our junior year in high school, and the air had warmed up just enough for us to venture out in sweatshirts with no jackets. It was the season when homework didn’t seem nearly as important as piling into Hannah’s father’s minivan and blasting “I’m Glad I Hitched my Apple Wagon to your Star” through our open windows and into the open windows of every other car on the highway:

I was young and I was stupid, I had just turned seventeen,
I took my hits on a dumb road trip to Nashville, Tennessee.

We hadn’t yet explored the meaning of “taking hits,” and we were heading to Hannah’s house in Needham, not Nashville. But the song became our anthem that spring, giving us permission to separate ourselves from our tan, pearl-earring-clad peers. We had each long since discovered that we didn’t mesh with the majority at our private school. Just a year earlier, I had spent my free periods in the library with a group of those glossy-haired girls, listening to their stories about Sweet Sixteen parties and Bloomingdales and racking my brain for contributions. But the words wouldn’t come, and I quickly became known as awkward and shy.

But the next year, Hannah transferred to our school and ended up in my Spanish class. I knew by her hair, which she left untamed by a straight iron, and the way the teacher described us both as “introvertida,” that we would be friends. Hannah’s best friend from public school, Sasha, was another curly-haired misfit who quickly fit right in with our group. And then came Sophia, a girl who had become a bit too alternative for the private school’s “lounge kids,” the lightly pierced hipsters who hung out in the basement student lounge. When Tina Lo transferred in junior year, she passed up an offer to join the glossy girl group, instead embracing her goofy personality in quests for dinosaur piñatas with us.

Our group also collected peripheral members, like Pedro — a scrawny, friendly kid with a pile of curly brown hair on top of his head. He always seemed a bit hesitant to become a true part of our crew, but he seemed to find us all both strange and intriguing. Maybe that’s why we all tended to emphasize our quirks in his presence.

Sometimes we’d travel to his house in Lincoln, MA, just to lounge around his living room and frolic in his backyard. Hannah and Sasha were there one day when the phone rang and Pedro let it go to voicemail. The message started off with: “Hey Señor Tico, it’s your Dad.”

“It was an evolution of nicknames,” Pedro explained. “You know — Pedro, Pico, Tico, Señor Tico.” Hannah and Sasha thought it was brilliant and immediately started using it every chance they could get — including that spring day when we found the nonchalant dinosaur at Party Works.

Señor Tico went everywhere with us. He would sit on the lap of whoever rode shotgun in the minivan. He would perch on our table at the pizza shop in Newton center. We’d carry him off the balcony of Hannah’s parent’s bedroom, and onto the rooftop, where we’d lie in a chain, munching on cheese and crackers, our heads bouncing from the laughter that vibrated from the stomachs underneath them. Señor Tico, with his sleepy eyes and moon-shaped mouth, would bob up and down atop one of our abdomens, enjoying the giddy laziness of the afternoon.

One day, Señor Tico joined us for a fairy-themed party at Sophia’s house. We all wore wings we had found in Hannah’s attic. Señor Tico got a set of wings too. We plopped a curly brown wig on the top of his green-horned head and carried him across several muddy streams behind the house. We chomped on rhubarb stalks dipped in sugar and sipped pink lemonade from teacups on a blanket in the woods with Señor Tico by our sides.

When we left the woods, Señor Tico wasn’t with us.

Mostly we didn’t mind that the little dinosaur wasn’t there to watch us grow up. He wasn’t there when we had to get Tina some Plan B the day after her new older boyfriend had refused to wear a condom. He wasn’t at the after-prom party where I ate one weed cookie too many and thought I was going to die. He didn’t come to our high school or college graduations. He wasn’t there with Hannah in Berkeley, where she learned about herbal medicine and lived with her ex-boyfriend. He wasn’t there when Sophia’s parents got divorced or when Sasha was sad but wouldn’t tell us why. Mostly we didn’t remember Señor Tico, and mostly we didn’t mind that he wasn’t there.

But now sometimes when we’re all back home at the same time, we start talking about how things are different, how we’re real people who have real thoughts and have to be significant to the world. And sometimes we’ll all be riding in Hannah’s minivan together again, or passing by the Party Works off 128, or listening to that song about apple wagons, and one of us will wonder: “Whatever happened to Señor Tico?”

Article © 2013 by Julia Rubin