It was more than four years ago that Butterstick first melted our hearts. And at times, perhaps, our news judgment.
As the "all-growed-up" Tai Shan -- aka America's Favorite Bamboo-Eater -- is crated away from the National Zoo to Dulles this morning, soon off to China and out of our lives forever, we can't help through our grizzled journalistic cynicism but to be a little wistful. Must we really endure Operation "Eats, Chutes, Leaves"?
Thing is, when Tai Shan was born at the National Zoo, Comic Riffs -- though an avowed animal lover, having being raised for a coupla years 'round a veritable Dr. Dolittle of a backyard -- grew skeptical of the blanket coverage. See, we were already a veteran of Panda Hyper-Coverage, having in San Diego endured (and participated in) the real-life journalistic version of "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy." You couldn't crack a news section without an infographic ("Bamboo: Five Great Recipes!") or a comparison chart ("Panda Pounds: America's Greatest Gainer!").
Now, however, what we wouldn't give for a return to those halcyon days -- the bamboo-"salad days," as it were.
So, as the 'Riffs Official Tribute to Tai Shan, we offer this cartoon farewell. We drew this jaundiced sketch -- "Tai Shan: A Modest Post Proposal" -- soon after Butterstick's birth as a form of cheeky internal critique OF The Post. Within a coupla days, though, it was excerpted in The Post's Style section (an absolutely unforeseen twist, lemme tell you),
Today, as Tai Shan becomes one of the few things exported from the United States TO China (and not the other way 'round), this sketch serves as time capsule. Remember back when a Kanye West interruption was a fairly good PR move? Remember when it was all about the Bush twins and not the Obama daughters? And can you recall when "the Pand" sounded more like a spoof of the iPod and not the iPad? Oh, those were the days, when Tai Shan Fever wasn't just a newsroom epidemic -- it was a fuzzy state of mind.
So it is with this cartoon, Tai Shan, that we bid you adieu. China may soon treat you like such a rock star, you'll think you're playing center for the Houston Rockets -- or are the Chinese search engine that will replace Google.
Through it all. T.S., just remember: It was we who knew you when. You can eat chutes, but in D.C.'s connection to you, Butterstick, you will never, ever quite leave.
CLICK BELOW TO SEE THE ENTIRE FIVE-PAGE "TAI SHAN" SKETCH.
(copyright 2005 / Cavna)