The scene: last week in my apartment. I found the bright green plastic bowl underneath the kitchen sink, careless tossed into the milk crate that held bottles of various cleaning solutions and soaps. A bulbous knob extended from one end with a smile, and eyes peaking from behind a thin red mask painted on it. “What is this doing in here?” I asked my roommate. “Oh yeah,” he said. “I wasn’t sure where to put it. What is it?” I looked down into its goofy painted eyes. “It’s my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cereal bowl,” I said.
Twenty years ago, when I first dug the bowl out of the bottom of a Cheerios box, I didn’t want it. My TMNT obsessed kindergarten brain immediately recognized the red mask as the identifier of Raphael and no one wanted to be Raphael. Whenever playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with your friends, you would want to pretend to be your favorite turtle. Young “type A personalities” were drawn to Leonardo (succinctly described in the theme song with “Leonardo leads”), while the more creative kids wanted to be Donatello (“does machines”). A rare few even liked Michelangelo (“a party dude”). But no one, not a singe kid, liked Raphael (according to the song, he was “cool but crude”); and some unlucky latecomer who didn’t call dibs to be one of the other three early enough was general stuck playing Raph. His other option was playing April O’Neil and she was a girl which was way worse (though I now wonder why no one volunteered to be Splinter, the giant rat that was the group’s sensei).
“Aw man, Raphael.” I remember saying with disdain, then turning to my mother, trying to enjoy her first cup of tea of the day, and inquired if we could run to the grocery store before school and get another box of cereal that would probably have a Donatello bowl (my first choice, but I would have settled for either of the other two) inside it. Without having to say anything, I could tell her answer was a strong and definite “No.”
And so I made due with my Raphael bowl. Years after the Ninja Turtle fad had died out, I found it again and brought it with me to college (mainly for its kitschy throwback value) and now keep it at the office so I can eat cereal at my desk (I had brought it home to wash last week, which is why my roommate didn’t recognize it). And you know something? Raphael has really grown on me. What I mistook for a grumpy cynic was actually the group’s speaker of truths, who never beat around the bush and always said what was on his mind. And his hot-headedness? While many will agree that it constantly brought the group into dangerous situations, it was also the acting force on most of their greatest adventures (many of which forged their strongest alliances). In essence, Raphael was probably the best Ninja Turtle and I am proud to own his cereal bowl.