Where Are They Now? Dora The Explorer
The following story is meant to be humorous, and is not intended to represent beloved children’s characters living or dead.
The stars that burn brightest often burn out the soonest. Whenever people wonder whatever happened to that beloved star of yesteryear, Bryan O’Nolan investigates.
It was a quiet Tuesday at the Ordinary Times Investigative Bureau, Building Three, Third Floor. The sunlight came through my venetian blinds at just the right angle to make the shadows and the flickering light on my desk suggest an air of mystery and a hint of, shall we say, things best left unsaid. Stones best left unturned. I had my feet up on the desk and a pipe was being contemplatively smoked by myself when the telephone rang.
The call came from one Alicia Márquez.
“Make it quick, Ma’am. I’ve little time,” I lied.
“I want you to find my estranged sister,” she said. “She was famous once.”
I knew the routine: brought joy to children; had her own show; probably a toy line if I’m not mistaken.
I was not mistaken, of course.
“Our family has broken apart. We—no,” she said, “I—I don’t know if they do—regret the fame, the notoriety, the licensing deals. We didn’t know where the money would go. We only knew there was money. It tore us apart.”
“To be sure, to be sure,” I said. “But who is the sister?”
“She was known professionally as Dora the Explorer.”
Well, sure and I’ll tell you I couldn’t believe it. I was very familiar with her work, having managed her fan club for several years, but
I’d moved on to other things. To hear that she’d disappeared and that she, Alicia and Diego were all estranged from each other was quite a shock. Quite a shock, I tell you.
“I know where Diego lives, but we’re not on speaking terms.”
That’s all a hard-boiled gumshoe like myself needs: a lead. I was on my way to his exotic animal park in central Oklahoma that afternoon.
“Diego!” I shouted, stepping out of my dusty rental car. “I have to speak to you.”
“What in the hell do you want?” he said.
He was quite confrontational.
“I was wondering if you had any information regarding the whereabouts of your cousin Dora García Márquez,” I asked.
“How did you find me? Was it that bitch Alicia Márquez?” He said, poking a finger into my chest. He smelled of cheap cologne and what I had to assume was tiger musk.
I decided the equivocation was my only reasonable play.
“Well,” said I. “It was a complicated flight with stops at both Heathrow and Dallas Fort Worth before getting into the Will Rogers. Then I rented the very Chevy Cavalier you see behind me now and—”
“So you’re not from New York?”
“I am not,” I said. “I am familiar with that fair metropolis in reputation only.”
He eyed me suspiciously, but it appeared Diego was not the sharpest tool in the junk drawer.
“Look, if I help you, she can’t find out, because if she does—” back to the chest-poking now “—I will never financially recover from this.”
I merely nodded in agreement.
“Talk to The Map.”
Luckily for me, Map could easily be found in a Tulsa dive bar, smoking a cigarillo and drinking lite beer for breakfast; he was a broken map.
I ordered a southwestern-style omelette and orange juices from the hungover barkeep. I can’t stand the small portions of orange juice doled out by your men at the restaurants.
“No backpack?” I asked jovially, hoping to soften him up.
Map just stared at me for a moment.
“You really thought there was a talking backpack?”
“Well, I’d just assumed—”
“That was CGI. You know nothing about show business, pal. Nothing,” he spat. “They tell you you’ve got a future. ‘There are plenty of parts for a singing map!’ they say. They said there’s growth potential. Maybe someday I could play an Atlas, or a singing Gazetteer! They don’t pay you scale for the better part of two decades and tease that you have a future for your own benefit. You need to know how the game is played. Now Blue: she played the game right; got the right contract and had the good fortune to be a dog. Everybody loves dogs! Nobody loves maps.”
“I love maps,” I said.
I knew if I could keep your man talking I might get somewhere.
“This ain’t that kind of bar, hombre.”
An uncomfortable silence obtained in the bar. My omelette arrived.
“So how did this Blue do so well?” I asked.
The underdone omelette slid down my gullet like a glob of warm mucus with an admixture of raw pepper and onion chunks. It tasted no better.
“Luck and good representation,” Map said, lighting another cigarillo. “Same old story. And boy, did she make bank. I hear she’s down in New Mexico, somewhere. Still working, the bitch.”
“Do you tell me so?” I said as I sipped my orange juice.
“Yeah,” he said, as he took a long, sardonic draw on his cigarillo. “Still working. Look, Blue broke up friendships like it was going out of style.”
“You don’t say!” I said.
“I mean we were competitors. Same network, but there was a serious rivalry between the two productions. The Nickelodeon back lot was a tough neighborhood in those days. Can’t tell you how many times Mailbox would sneak onto our set and yell, ‘Freeze, Bobos!’ just to ruin a perfect take. I had to bail Boots out more than once—out of my own damn pocket, you understand—when he’d get caught messing with their sets and equipment. One time he changed one of Steve’s cue-cards to say ‘I love cocaine’!”
The Map smiled and shook his head.
“Boots was the worst criminal I’ve ever met. There’s no plan he’d undertake—let’s move on to the gin course, Shirley—that he didn’t get caught on account of his own stupidity. Somehow he never did any time.”
Map stared down the ash on the end of his cigarillo.
“I’ve heard it said, many a time,” I offered. “That people that dumb are aready in their own sort of prison. Do you follow?”
He was getting choked up.
“Still, the dumb bastard didn’t deserve what he got in the end,” he was crying now.
“I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean—” I threw an arm around him.
He took a moment and just cried. He wept in my arms, the poor map.
“Look, fella,” he said as he regained his composure. “When someone tells you there’s more than one way to steal a threshing machine you spit in his damn eye for Boots ‘n me.”
It was quite a pronouncement.
“Ah, I think It’d be best to change the subject, don’t you think.”
“Thank you, friend,” said Map.
“You mentioned Blue and a divisive friendship?” I dipped a conversational toe in ever so carefully.
“Now, you didn’t hear this from me, Blue and—” he looked furtively round the bar before mouthing “—Dora—were friends. She betrayed the whole cast! We’d worked so damn hard to stand together and the whole time she and Blue were palling around and none of us knew. We were humiliated.”
“As it turns out, Map,” said I. “That Dora is the very person I am trying to track down!”
He took a napkin and wrote down an address. It was in New Mexico.
“Word of warning, friend,” Map said, with a look of disgust. “You’re going to want to call first. Somebody might need to fit you into her busy schedule.”
He rolled his eyes and returned to his drink. I left a fifty on the bar with a nod to Shirley indicating it was for your man the Map and—do you know?—when I left the bar I thought I heard him humming a happy, mappy old tune to himself as the bittersweet memories washed over him.
I’d just got to the airport when, out of nowhere, a bipedal fox—oh, I immediately recognized that dastardly Swiper!—took the napkin out of my hand.
Dear reader, excuse me for being so direct but we are at an impasse. If you are unable to yell, “Swiper, no swiping!” three times at the text of this story then I will be rendered completely incapable of finishing it, leaving you in a state of unresolvable suspense for which I could never forgive myself. Can you do it reader, for all of us? Wherever you are, yell it—”Swiper, no swiping!”—now!
Oh, thank you, readers. Please express the sincerest of my apologies to your fellow passengers, members of the clergy and any other witnesses. If they look at you questioningly simply tap the text with a knowing eye and say, “Ordinary Times” as if that were all the explanation any reasonable person could need.
We may now move on.
New Mexico. They say it’s a dry heat. But to those of us from the rarified airs of the higher latitudes, a dry heat is still damned uncomfortable. I wanted climate control and an interview with this Blue; she wasn’t the only one who could follow clues.
Forty-five minutes after claiming she couldn’t fit me in until Tuesday next she suddenly had an opening in her busy, busy schedule. Something about two projects in development and feigned regret at going into directing.
I was there in half an hour; she had the climate control I required.
“I’m so happy you could fit me in,” I say, taking out a notebook the size of which implied I had a much greater interest in all she had to say than I actually had. “While you are, perhaps, most known for your breakout work in Blue’s Clues, I know you’ve been ever so busy since then. Could you tell me more about that?”
I was taking the soft approach, you understand.
She lounged on a memory foam doggie bed and chewed briefly at her forepaws.
“I am, of course,” she said. “Very proud of the work I did on Blue’s Clues—I think we made an important difference in many children’s lives with that project and broke a lot of new ground—but I’m just as proud of my more character-driven work.”
“Ah,” said I. “Do you tell me so?”
“Well, so they say,” she said with false modesty. “One doesn’t appear in the first three seasons of A Game of Thrones on good looks alone, does one? That’s where the real work is done. The constant interplay between one’sself, the other players and the demands of the production. . . well, let me say that is where real art is being made, these days.”
I knew I had her; she was waxing philosophical, which is where you want a person with no philosophy to be when you stick the poignard in.
Skilled with the rapier as I was, I held off for the moment and took another line of attack.
“Do I hear you played Buck in the recent production of Call of the Wild?” I said lightly.
She groaned and stretched in her dog bed. An assistant brought an ice cube and placed it in a dish full of water.
“Loved working with Harrison Ford,” she said. “Consummate gentleman. The script was a shambles, though. I stuck it out for the sake of the project; to do otherwise would be unprofessional. To be in a production of London, I mean, ought any canine actor want for more? But making the narrative focus a human was wrong and I opposed it to no avail. You win some, you lose some in Hollywood. As long as I win some? I’m happy.”
“I wonder what role affected you most deeply?”
“Oh, playing the title role in the West End production of Old Yeller. Lin-Manuel Miranda is an absolute genius and, unlike most geniuses of my acquaintance, an absolute delight to work with.”
“Now, Blue,” I said. “As much as I respect your storied career, I have another question to ask you. You were very close to one Dora the Explorer. Have you any notion at all of where she might be at this time?”
She became serious: this was a Blue I’d not yet met or known.
“If what I hear is true,” she said, trailing off. She wrote an address down on a card. “It’s an arena in Mexicali. You’ll find her there, I think.”
As I thanked her and excused myself I think I saw Blue go over to her dish and—delicately, mind!—take the ice cube out of your man the water dish and over to one of your gentlemen the carpets.
Now, I don’t have any Spanish, so several hours later through all sorts of gesticulating on my part and manys a knowing glance between your men and my escorts, I arrived at the area in question.
This was not a high end affair. On the floor of the arena there were no chairs. In the center was the ring. There were four luchadoras in and around it in their striking and garish masks. I gathered the ladies were having a tag team match.
It would make sense that a person known for working in front of the camera might transition to artist representation and management when their more public career dried up, so even though Mexican Wrestling was an odd choice of field, it would at least explain her complete disappearance.
The crowd let up a roar at something in the ring, but I wasn’t watching that. I was wandering through the crowd towards the scorers table in hopes that the managers and agents would be nearby.
Just when I’d got to the cordon that kept the fans from the ring there was a loud clang and a sudden silence. I looked to the ring and one of the wrestlers was holding a metal folding chair in the air and standing over her prone, unconscious victim. The victim’s partner stepped into the ring.
“You have broken kayfabe!” she yelled. “You have injured my friend.”
And that’s when it hit me: her voice. I had just laid eyes on the target of my search: Luchadora the Explorer. I rushed to the edge of the ring as some medics pulled the bleeding, unconscious wrestler to the floor.
Dora stepped toward the attacker, veins pulsing on her massive muscles. She was angry, I could tell—I knew she and her show so well—but she didn’t look angry. She never did.
The attacker swung the chair and Dora ducked and took the full brunt of the blow to her back. She hit the mat hard, we ended up face to face.
“You are Bryan!” she said. “I signed a t-shirt for you once. I remember all of my friends.”
She reached out to me. I touched her hand.
I’d been tagged in.
I took off my shirt, put on elbow pads and climbed to the topmost turnbuckle.
“You’ll regret that, or my name’s not Bryan O’Nolan!” I shouted.
I leapt off the turnbuckle and had the one with the chair down on the mat in a rear-naked choke hold in a flash.
“Welcome to the jungle,” I said as she struggled for breath.
Her partner jumped into the ring. Dora was on her as quick as you like and just as my opponent passed out, Dora had hers up in the air for a Backbreaker. She brought the girl down on her knee and let her roll onto the mat.
I stood up.
“And now,” I said to the whole arena. “Here comes my finisher!”
I took off one of my elbow pads and tossed it to an eager fan in the front rows. I swung my arm dramatically across my chest and bounced off the nearby ropes and ran full tilt across the mat —with a skip over the body of my target—a great lean into the ropes beyond and then, when I had ricocheted off that and was back at my enemy, I lifted my leg and delivered, mercilessly, The Peoples Elbow, right to her breast bone.
Dora came over, took off her mask and we raised our hands high in victory.
“We did it!” We shouted in unison.
Some time I’ll have to tell you where Waldo was all that time.