A few months ago Clara shouted from the back seat of the car, "That's that guy from Sesame Street!" "Where?" I asked. "Right there!" I had to tip the rear view mirror to see where she was pointing, then looked in that direction, expecting to see Guy Smiley. Instead I saw this:
"Oh yeah. He is from Sesame Street." Great. My daughter, who wasn't four yet, was already associating commercials with the programs she saw them on. McCarthy is one of the biggest building companies in St. Louis, and sponsor Sesame Street here. Their commercial comes on before and after every episode. Every time we approached that same spot, the location of their headquarters, Clara wanted to see "that guy from Sesame Street."
Not long after, Megan and I were at a party with a friend who works for McCarthy, and conveyed our daughter's enthusiasm with his mascot. "You mean the dude?" he asked. The dude? "I don't know if everyone calls him that," he said, "but everyone in our office does." It turns out his kids love the dude as well.
The next time we drove past the headquarters, we explained to Clara that the Sesame Street man is actually called "the dude." Her eyes lit up, as if she learned a secret no one else knew. All the next month she asked if she could see "the dude." Then, on one outing, she noticed the dude on the top of a construction crane, then on the side of a construction trailer, then on a truck. "The dude, daddy! The dude!" It was as if the whole city was becoming a giant scavenger hunt, leaving images of the dude all over for her to find. If she sees a crane in the distance, she asks, "is that a dude crane?"
Then, this summer, while driving down I-80 in Sacramento, I pulled up behind a McCarthy truck. I didn't know they were in California, and Clara had yet to notice the truck. I counted down in my head: 5...4...3...2...1. Finally, from the back seat, "THE DUDE!!!!"
I "borrowed" that picture above from McCarthy's web site. The title of the picture file? "dude_home"
In our house at least, "the dude" no longer refers to the guy from The Big Lebowski.