So, this being Easter, I had the harebrained idea that it might be nice – not to mention timely – to visit “The Bunny Museum,” a quirky collection of all things rabbit-related housed in, well, a modest Spanish stucco house on a sleepy suburban street.
Visitors just can’t show up unannounced at 1933 Jefferson Drive, which doubles as the home of Candace Frazee and Steve Lubanski. No, you must call and make an appointment, but Frazee is so bubbly on the phone that you believe her when she says her door is always open.
After giving directions and instructing me that the “media rate” for museum admittance is a grocery bag of produce – broccoli, cilantro and bananas, but, curiously, no carrots – to feed the three real bunnies of the household, Frazee signs off with a cheery, “Have a hoppy day.”
“Uh, you, too,” I mumbled.
I was a tad taken aback. I mean, I never had to bring bananas when I visited the International Banana Museum near the Salton Sea last summer. I wasn’t required to don certain neckwear when I ventured to the Bola Tie Museum in Arizona, and I sure as heck didn’t need to make an offering of trail mix at the Big Foot Museum in Willow Creek.
But if Huell Howser, Adam Carolla, an Associated Press scribe and too many bloggers to count were willing to abide by this media edict, who was I to complain? Fortunately, there was a Vons market a block away, where I picked up a bunch of bananas for $1.95 and a couple of crowns of broccoli for $5.44. Cilantro? I don’t do cilantro. Sorry. Still, my tab of $7.39 exceeded the $5 regular Bunny Museum visitors pay to enter.
This better be worth it, I thought.
Oh, dear reader, it was. I knew from the get-go, right from when I parked in front of a bunny-shaped garden trellis, that it would be. Frazee, all smiles, greeted me in the doorway, but she refused to shake my hand.
“Uh-huh,” she chided, playfully. “We do the bunny bump.”
She held up two fingers in the victory salute – and kept them frozen in mid-air until I did the same.
“That’s the bunny,” she said.
Then she balled her hand into a fist and thrust it toward mine. I followed suit, and we touched knuckles.
“That’s the bump,” she added. “It’s the bunny bump.”
She left me for a moment, because she had other museumgoers to tend to inside. I was encouraged, strongly, to sign the thick guest book, which has kept a running tally of visitors over its 22-year existence. I picked up the pen, covered with faux bunny fur, and officially became visitor No. 23,318.
Once I was across the threshold, my eyes widened and ears elongated. Bunnies! Bunnies, everywhere. Stuffed bunnies. Bunny figurines. Bunny portraits and books. Flags and hutches and framed photographs. Every inch of space is laden with bunny ephemera, a swirl of pastel colors so vivid that it would make Disneyland look monochromatic.
And that is just the entryway. As I waited for Frazee to return – her husband and fellow bunny enthusiast, Lubanski, was at work at the nearby bike shop he owns – my eye was drawn to a glass cabinet where several large bunnies lay. They looked so lifelike, not at all like the perky, smiling retail bunnies so omnipresent at Eastertime.
“Oh,” Frazee said, when I commented on the bunnies under glass. “These are our pets that passed away. This one was our first, Honey Bunny. She started it all. She’s our logo now.”
Neither of us lingered long at the taxidermied specimens, because Frazee had much more to show me. There is, after all, in excess of 30,000 (and multiplying daily) bunny keepsakes in the small, single-story house (though some are in storage). Still in the hallway, Frazee flipped her long, blond hair and led me by the arm to another display case. She pointed to a cute, fluffy bunny next to a wedding cake topper of a blond bride in a flowing gown and handsome tuxedoed man.
“That’s the bunny that started the whole collection,” she said. “Twenty-two years ago on Valentine’s Day. Steve gave it to me. It’s because we call each other ‘Honey Bunny.’ Then I gave him this one that Easter and then, before you know it, we were giving each other a bunny every day as a love token. We still do that. Here’s our wedding picture. Lovely.”
The cake wasn’t bunny-shaped, was it?
“No, but it was carrot cake,” she said, with a wink. “I made it. Steve dressed up as a bunny at the reception. That surprised me.”
By this point, nothing would surprise me. She led me to the living room, where there were bunnies at my feet, bunnies on the walls, bunny images hung from the ceiling, a vertiginous display of gleaming incisors and ears both vertical, ramrod straight and floppy. I had trouble keeping my balance amid the plenitude.
“Wow,” I said, incisively.
“That’s what everybody says,” Frazee quipped.
The living room is a veritable United Nations of bunnies: “This is Canada, and this area is all China. This is hard to see, because it’s double-layered, but this is Mexico. These are from Sweden. I brought all that back with me. Those pink and green bunnies are the mascot of Liseberg, the largest amusement park in Scandinavia. That’s like the Mickey Mouse of Europe. These ones are all from England. Oh, and here’s a Nativity scene – Mary, Joseph and Jesus and bunnies. Isn’t that funny?”
I asked if anyone ever objects to a religious figure portrayed as a bunny. She said no, but that there are “bunny purists” out there who are “offended by the bunnies that have clothing on. It’s silly. But I’ve met all kinds here.”
To lighten the mood, Frazee motioned me forward.
“Hop into our warren,” she said.
It’s the couple’s den, and it is inundated with stuffed bunnies, spilling off shelves onto the couch and floor. There must, by conservative count, be 500 bunnies in this small room. Only two non-bunny items adorn the room – a large flat-screened TV and a couch. “We wanted a cozy feeling when watching TV.”
Moving on, the kitchen and, yes, even the bathroom are decorated. She apologized for the mess in the kitchen, because, “I’m assembling a display for a Pasadena Public Library exhibit.” The three real bunnies unobtrusively twitch their noses in an alcove off the kitchen.
“They go through five fruits and vegetables every day,” she said. “What you gave me? That’ll be gone by tonight. They eat the way we should.”
The couple’s backyard isn’t quite so bunny-saturated, but Frazee has a bench where visitors can sit and admire bunny statues. She leaves chalk out for kids to draw bunnies on the sidewalk, which is what 9-year-olds Emma Magnuson and Caris Felix, of La Mirada, are doing after their tour.
Are you into bunnies, I ask the girls?
“I am now,” Caris said.
Frazee beamed. It’s just such a response that keeps her going, keeps her acquiring and cataloging bunnies all the livelong day. Before I left, and a few minutes before visitors No. 23,319 and 23,320 arrived, she had to show me one of her latest acquisitions she retrieved from the bathroom. It was a plastic bunny with a plunger. She waved her hand in front of the bunny’s face, and the bunny spoke in a goofy voice:
“Hello, and Happy Easter. Come on in and plant your keister.”