Am I Blue?

One of the unspoken perks of parenting is that you get to rediscover toys under the guise of “looking into it for the baby.” Indeed, since my daughter Sage arrived a year ago, I have thoroughly enjoyed sharing the block sets, the amazing playfulness of Theo Geisel’s world of rhyme, and the Fisher-Price vintage cars found at a yard sale. (We didn’t get the coveted two-seater, but did snag the green-plastic-and-shoelace-hose gas pump.)

But when it comes to crayons, that’s where the sharing ends. It’s with those little wax sticks that I’m going to teach Sage the meaning of “greed.” My generosity with crayons applies only to duplicates.

It all started innocently with a conversation about Crayola colors, and the several colors of which I had never heard. Courtesy of, I was able to see the entire list of colors, and I knew immediately that I would be heading to Target to get the big box—who wants “gray” when you can have “Manatee”? Who wants “brown” when you can have “Mahogany”? I’ll gladly buy Sage her own set of “red”, “blue”, and blah blah blah, but I want the point on my “Outer Space” to be sharp when I need it. is the pusherman for the coloring junkie, the rainbow-sprinkle donut shop for the fat-fingered glutton. Every item that the marketing department has dreamed up for bilking me of my spare cash is laid out like a wax buffet, a lurid display of primary, secondary, and tertiary delights. It was only the exorbitant cost of shipping that kept me from typing in my credit card number next to the link that read, “Everything, Dammit, and with Overnight Delivery!”

Yet above all others, one little package of 16 crayons piqued my interest. While it’s common knowledge that Crayola packages their crayons in various bundles, it’s less well known that certain colors are available only in certain packs. Thus, you can purchase the big box of 64, but there are specialty colors that aren’t included. I have of late been obsessed with these “specialty colors”, and my obsession was exacerbated by the web site listing of Crayola’s “Multicultural” crayon set. My head was full of images—since they used names such as “Manatee” and “Timber wolf” for colors in nature, I wondered how daring Crayola would be with their multi-cultural set: Would there actually be a crayon called “African”? What would be the particular hue of “Asian”? And what would the previously-known-as-“peach” hue be labeled? I knew it was too much to ask for it to read “Honky” or “Cracker”, but I held our a small hope that “Cheerio” might win out over “Caucasian.” (I once heard a comedian name “Cheerios” as the closest approximation of Caucasian skin—I have yet to hear a better comparison.)

I searched everywhere for the Multi-Cultural crayon set, but it was nowhere to be found. I revisited and found a list of stores that sold these politically correct items, but urgent drives to each of the stores resulted in the traditional boxes of 24, 48, 64 (complete with hi-tech sharpener) but no “Middle-Eastern” or “Indigenous American.” I gave up, having to concentrate on more pressing matters like Sage’s fever, birthday celebrations, and as Chris Rock says, knockin’ out that rent.

Then one day at Finnegan’s (Portland’s answer to FAO Schwartz), I stumbled upon this previously elusive holy grail of writing utensils. I quickly passed Sage to her Mom, opening the box with an enthusiasm usually exhibited only by starving campers who chance upon an unopened granola bar. Out slid the 16 crayons, and much to my surprise:


“Periwinkle”, to be exact. Now I admit, I’m no world traveler, but I do watch the Discovery channel and I have never seen any tribes the color of hydrangeas. And “Silver”? Sheesh, now THAT’s politically correct—including a crayon for the accurate depiction of Martians. (Sure, they’re called “little green men”, but anyone who watches movies knows they’re silver.) (or periwinkle.) The pack included none of the “creative” monikers I had hoped for—too bad, since I still insist “Brazilian” would have been a great name and a gorgeous color.

I referred back to Crayola’s site, digging deep into the web archives for an explanation of the inclusion of blue—perhaps a marketing ploy arranged by the Blue Man group? I had heard that author Spaulding Gray had approached Crayola regarding a label in his likeness, but these hues were nothing like the vibrant make-up of that ubiquitous performing troupe. However, the answer did not involve any form of cross-media-pollination: the box includes not only colors for skin tones (Apricot, Tan, Sepia, Raw Sienna) but also for eyes (Cerulean, Periwinkle), hair (Goldenrod, Burnt Orange) and lips (Salmon).

I must admit, I was disappointed to learn that the blues and silver weren’t skin tones. I thought perhaps it was Crayola’s subliminal effort to promote racial peace—-after all, if you’re Burnt Sienna, and your neighbor seems different because he’s Peach, well you’re practically relatives compared to the Cerulean guy down the street.

Of course, if Sage wants to try to draw that Cerulean guy, she’s going to have to settle on Blue.


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