If you’ve spent any time in downtown Providence, chances are your eyes have been drawn to a storefront window packed full of big, weird, and colorful creatures. This is the land of Big Nazo, the brainchild of creature creator Erminio Pinque that has amused, confused, and delighted folks around the city, region and world since the 1980s. Big Nazo even has its own band, which has performed all over, sharing stages with the likes of George Clinton & the Parliament Funkadelic, The Flaming Lips, and Spinal Tap. The Big Nazo Lab is where the creatures are designed, fabricated, and repaired, and it was into this cheerful jumble of foam body parts that Moonie tugged me by the hand, his eyes lighting up at the sight of different shapes and colors. Erminio, who teaches “Creature Creations” at the Rhode Island School of Design and who happily brings his workshops to various schools, colleges and community centers for all ages to enjoy, was there chatting with a new RISD instructor, but not for long. Moonie barged right in, too excited to meet new friends to worry about manners, and Erminio was kind enough to show him around the lab and introduce him to some of the creatures.
He and this creepy little rat thing particularly hit it off.
Right away, he named the rat thing “Cuddles.”
Then he asked me to hold him up to the giant eye of a giant creature. He admired his own reflection in its pupil.
Next, he got to meet “Grandma,” a flowered-dress-wearing drummer that is easily 10 or 12 feet tall. And by “meet” I mean “crawled into the mouth of.”
Erminio had me jump in the shot, too. Keep in mind Grandma was sitting down at the time; otherwise she wouldn’t have fit into the frame.
“You have pretty eyes,” Moonie was now telling a disembodied head. “They’re red and blue, and that’s two colors, and that’s a third of a rainbow, and rainbows are beautiful!” The disembodied head didn’t say anything.
“Do you ever wear hats?” Moonie asked. The head didn’t say anything.
“‘Cause I wear banana peels on my head sometimes,” Moonie continued, “And they make good hats, and I know some great banana jokes, too.” The head didn’t say anything.
“How do monkeys get down the stairs?” Moonie asked, undeterred. The head didn’t say anything.
“They slide down the banana-ster!” Moonie shrieked with laughter. The head didn’t say anything.
I looked away for a minute and suddenly heard a weird sucking sound. I looked over and Moonie was happily waving at me from a hole in a creature’s head.
The poor creature’s eyes were bugging out and it was turning blue. Evidently it was having trouble breathing with a pink-haired dude wedged in one of its airholes. Its long nose flapped around, and the pink hair-like things dangling from it waved a bit desperately.
“Uh, Moonie, buddy,” I said. “Let’s go check out some friends over this way.”
Moonie happily hopped out of the face hole, the sucking noises stopped, and the creature took a deep breath and let out a sigh of relief.
“Are you a donkey?” Moonie was asking a tall gold creature.
“Moonie, a lot of these guys are intergalactic creatures from another planet. They’re not the same as the people and animals you’ve seen around here,” I said.
Moonie ignored me. “‘Cause I know a great donkey joke,” he said into the gold creature’s ear. The creature stared ahead.
“Wanna hear it?” Moonie asked.
The creature stared ahead.
“What do you call a donkey with a Ph.D.?” Moonie asked.
The creature stared ahead.
“A smart ass!” Moonie shouted.
“Moonie!” I said. “That’s a bad word.”
But the creature thought it was funny and laughed. Go figure.
Next Moonie crawled into the mouth of a big blue creature. “Look, Mama!” he called over to me from inside its orifice. “Its teeth are like candy corns!”
I took one look at the creature’s pleading gold eye and stepped over. “Hey, Moonie, let’s go visit this nice old man for a minute.”
“Thank you,” whispered the big blue creature as Moonie scurried over to his elderly new pal. “I was afraid I’d accidentally eat him. I’m on a diet and I’m not supposed to have anything with pink hair.”
“Hi!” Moonie meanwhile was saying to the nice elderly man. “Knock knock!”
The old man sat there placidly.
“I don’t think he heard me,” Moonie whispered to me, and then he scrambled right up to the old man’s ear. “KNOCK KNOCK!” he screamed directly into the ear.
“YAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!” screamed the startled old man.
“No, silly!” Moonie said. “You’re supposed to say, ‘Who’s there?'”
“Where are my heart pills?!?” cried the old man, patting his pockets, while Moonie skipped around meeting other new pals. After making sure the old man was OK, I went to collect Moonie so we could leave and give Big Nazo a break. I found him nestled into the claw-like hand of a crab-like creature, grinning.
“This is my new friend Scratchy,” he announced. “He’s scratching that itchy spot on my back.”
“That was sure nice of him,” I said.
“They’re ALL nice here!” Moonie replied. “Can we come play here every day?”
I looked around and spotted several green and gold and red and blue eyes pleading for me to say no. “Um, we’ll see,” I said.
“Yay!” Moonie cried, taking that as a yes.
“Yay!” the creatures cried, taking it as a no.
Thanks to Erminio for letting my nude little dude run around his lab and meet some of his creatures. I hope they’re not too scarred from the experience. He meant well, really.
And if we come back we’ll have a big talk first about not crawling into any more orifices.