Friday, October 26, 2012

What Bootsie Saw

I swear, it was the cutest thing I had ever heard Bootsie say.  It happened last Sunday night, after she had seen me dressed in a Halloween costume earlier that day.  "Googie?" she said with no small amount of incredulity in her little two-year-old voice.  "I saw you a boy."

She had indeed.  That afternoon, I had stuffed my hair under a short black wig, slathered the area around my eyes with dark shadow, spirit-gummed on some eyebrows and a mustache, and velcroed a fake bird to the shoulder of my mortuary-black jacket.  Why?  For three hours last Sunday, I became Edgar Allan Poe.

My other major writing interest, apart from this blog, is to help a former student of mine, known this time of year as "Joseph Nightmare," to produce poetry/prose readings every couple months at various venues in and around our town.  We call our organization "SpoFest."

In October, we become "SpookFest," complete with scary material, costumes, and special effects.  This year, in an effort to increase audience involvement, we added a three-round Edgar Allan Poe trivia contest.  Emceeing that contest was yours truly, outfitted to look the part from head to toe. (If you are interested, you can see our readings and trivia rounds on our website at

Googie as Edgar Allan Poe
I saw Bootsie eyeing me curiously as I left the house for SpoFest.  I was glad she didn't seem frightened or unduly alarmed.  She just kind of took in the sight, processed it during the evening, and, I think, was glad to see me morph back into the real Googie later.
I have always been fascinated by the way children use language to describe new experiences.  They take the limited vocabulary and syntax they know, and find a way to adapt it to an event or situation not yet in their repertoire.  People often think of these adaptations as "cute."  I think they are the brilliant epitome of creativity.  My baby girl saw me a boy, and, thanks to the photo, you can see me a boy too. 
We are thinking about Stephen King trivia for SpookFest 2013 (that is, if we are still around after our "Doomsday" SpoFest, set for Dec. 4, 2012).  That costume will probably be a little more challenging to put together, but I guess I had better prepare to see myself another boy.
I wonder what a then three-year-old will have to say about that?   

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Balloon Curriculum

The other day, when I was talking to Sooby on the phone, she was lamenting the short life of the balloon.  Her little sister's birthday balloons from earlier this month had either popped or developed leaks.  The Princess, Spiderman, and Elmo mylars I had taken the kids at the end of June lay deflated on their toy room floor.  Indeed, Sooby assured me, she had every reason to be "so, so sad about them."

"Well," I told her, "some things just aren't meant to last very long."  I reminded her of Wonder Bubbles and of Charlie Brown's kite, a victim of the infamous kite-eating tree.  We talked about cupcakes.  "Sometimes," I heard myself say, "the fact that things don't last very long is what makes them so special while we have them.  If we had them all the time, they wouldn't be so much fun."  I even taught her a new word to describe these things: "temporary."

Now, I could go on and use this as some kind of metaphor for life itself, but that would be too obvious and melodramatic.  What I am really fascinated by here is the fact that something like a bag of air secured by a knot can be at the center of so many life lessons.

I love a story that my cousin tells of a trip she took with her parents to Disneyland when she was little.  Her mom and dad bought her a balloon and handed it to her with the stern warning NOT to let it go, no matter what.  "All I could think about," she said, "was 'What will happen if I let this go?'"  Sure enough, curiosity got the best of her.  She let it go, and, as far as her parents were concerned, she was one dead cat.

Balloon lessons seem to pop up in the curriculum of every new generation.  I remember a set of pictures a friend took of my daughter, Sooby's mother, playing with her first balloon at less than one year of age (A bad idea, I know.  I can still hear my mother screaming, "She'll pop that thing and suck it down her throat!").  Back then, the series of photos led me to write a poem, part of which I will quote here.

It begins, "I watch you enrapt/as air wrapped in red rubber/evades your chubby grubby grasp,/once more endures the test/of two new teeth."  The second stanza contemplates possible outcomes of this scenario (except the one my mom warned of): the balloon could pop suddenly, scare the baby, and make her cry--or she could wake up in the morning to find all the air gone out of it. Either way, I mused, she would be disappointed.  Like Sooby, who was feeling especially close to her balloons because she had just learned to blow them up by herself, she might be left "so, so sad."

The final stanza voices what I think must surely be every mother's hope for her child: "I wish I could spare you/now and always/sudden loss, shattered hopes,/dreams dissolved overnight."  Of course, no mother can do that.  We all have to learn to live with loss and to cope with the deflated shells of hopes and dreams that failed to pan out. 

That is life, and--oh, shoot!--life is like a balloon.  I said it after all.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Poem and a Song

You hit the age of sixty and immediately, it seems, the old clock starts to tick a little louder.  This is good, of course, because you probably can't hear as well as you used to.  Still, there is something about writing your age with a "6" that whispers in your ear, "Better get it done if you're ever going to.  You're not going to live forever, you know." 

I know this, of course (and the producers of The Bucket List made a fortune off this very idea).  But I just haven't ever thought about it much until now.  Maybe it was losing my dad a little over a year ago that slapped my cheeks, squeezed my nose shut, gave me two quick breaths, and yelled, "Wake up!"  Maybe it has been the yearlong process of going through his things with Mom, of dispersing tools and guns and vehicles here and there, of realizing that, even if you have seen the Kaufman and Hart play, you really can't take it with you.

About now is when you start thinking about a legacy.  What am I really leaving behind?  Fifty years from now, what will my life have meant?  Most likely, no one alive then will remember that I played piano (This is probably a good thing.) or acted in college and community plays or sang.

Except maybe the grandkids.  Maybe they will remember that I sang.  Maybe they will be singing those same songs to their own grandkids, and, in their so doing, I will have left a legacy of sorts and achieved a kind of immortality.

I am reminded of Billy Joel's beautiful lullabye, "Goodnight My Angel":  "Someday your child may cry/And if you sing this lullabye/Then in your heart/There will always be a part of me," he sings toward the end of the song.  And then, "Someday we'll all be gone/But lullabyes go on and on/They never die/That's how you/And I/Will be."

This, I think, is one of those rare songs where the lyrics and melody are perfectly married to one another.  Joel's words are a poignant testament to the power of words to travel across time, to lodge in the hearts of subsequent generations and thereby leave a living legacy.

Maybe this, in part, is why I write.  I have things that I think and feel, and I desperately want those things to survive.  When I write, both people who know me and those who may not can come to my buffet and fill their plates with anything they find somehow practical or palatable.

The written word triumphs over the human life span, and thank goodness for that.  Thank goodness for the buffets spread years ago by King David, by Shakespeare, by the blind Homer, by the likes of Frost and Poe and Whitman.  Thank goodness I have had the opportunity to taste their delectable morsels and to leave a few of my own behind for readers who may come through the line after I, too, am gone.

Luckily, these pensive and somewhat melancholy states of mind don't last long.  It's just that I have been struggling lately to stay afloat in this ocean of life insurance policies, powers of attorney, health care directives, and beneficiary deeds.  Indulge me in one last morbid thought, but just before I started writing this post, I was thinking about what I might want engraved on my tombstone.

This, I think, is what I want it to say: "Life is a poem and a song."  Because when this is the case, life, like Billy Joel says, lasts forever. 



Friday, October 12, 2012

Jacky Joe's Halloween Party: The Ending

[Headnote:  This is the conclusion to a piece of children's Halloween fiction recently written by Googie and illustrated by Sooby.  Before reading the ending, you might want to consult the previous two blog posts for the beginning and middle.]

The story continues . . . .

Jacky Joe sat up in bed and rubbed his eyes.  He stretched a big stretch, yawned a huge yawn, and smiled a gigantic smile.  He jumped out of bed, found his house slippers, and headed for the kitchen, where his mama was already measuring out the sugar, flour, and cocoa for the cupcakes.

On the way, Jacky Joe nearly ran into his dinosaur costume hanging in the doorway.  He stopped a minute to look at it.

"It might scare some of my friends," he thought, "with those sharp, pointy teeth and that slimy green tail."  But Jacky Joe didn't think his costume looked scary at all.  He no longer thought of ghosts or witches or spiders as scary either.  Instead, he thought it all sounded like a lot of Halloween fun.

"I'm not scared at all, Mama," he said, grabbing a wooden spoon to stir the cupcake batter.  "I just know this is going to be the best party ever!"

The End
About the Illustrator

Sooby is a five-year-old kindergartener.  She lives in Kansas.  She loves all kinds of stories and hopes to illustrate many more.  She and her Googie wish everyone a Happy Halloween!

Sooby at work

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Jacky Joe's Halloween Party: The Middle

[Synopsis of the story so far:  As his mama tucks him into bed on the night before Halloween, Jacky Joe thinks about the Halloween party he has planned for the next day.  In doing so, he worries that, during the night, a ghost, a witch, and a spider might make their presence known in and around his bedroom.  He admits to being "a little bit scared."  His mama tells him not to be afraid of such things; further, she suggests that, if they do show up, he should just invite them to his party.  Jacky Joe contemplates this advice as he drifts off to sleep.] 

Suddenly, Jacky Joe found himself right smack in the middle of his Halloween party!  A ghost, a witch, and a spider surrounded him.  His mama was nowhere to be found.  He tried to think what to do.

Just then, the ghost said, "Thank you for inviting me to your party, Jacky Joe.  I will spread out my white sheet and be your tablecloth.  I will hold the bowl of punch and the chocolate cupcakes with orange frosting for you.  I will help you to have the best party ever!"

 Before Jacky Joe could answer, the witch spoke up.  "Thank you for inviting me to your party, Jacky Joe," she said, and her voice was only a little bit cackly.  "I will give you and your friends a ride on my broomstick.  It will be fun to ride up to the moon and back--you'll see.  I will help you to have the best party ever!"
 Jacky Joe was just beginning to think about how it would feel to ride right across the face of the moon when the spider piped up.  "Thank you for inviting me to your party, Jacky Joe.  I will spin beautiful webs to decorate your playroom.  Your friends will think this is the best party ever!"

Just as Jacky Joe was trying to decide what to do about all his strange guests, he felt someone gently shake his shoulder.  It was his mama.  "Time to get up, Jacky Joe," she said.  "Today is Halloween.  It's time to get everything ready for your party."

To Be Continued . . . .


Monday, October 8, 2012

Jacky Joe's Halloween Party: The Beginning

[Headnote: If you have done much rummaging in "Googie's Attic," you know I like to experiment with different writing formats.  That's why, in the course of a little over a year and a half now, you have seen poetic, dramatic, epistolary, and question-and-answer sides along with the regular diet of essay or what I prefer to call "creative nonfiction."  Until now, I have never tried my hand at fiction, at least, with the idea that anyone else would read it.  However, when a local writing contest included a category in children's short story, I wrote one and entered it just for fun.  This past weekend, I read the story to Sooby and Pooh, and Sooby decided she liked the idea of being an "illustrator."  It was a joy to see how, at age five, she visualized  characters and  brought scenes to life with nothing more than a pencil, crayons, and scrap paper.  I thought it might be fun to record the story along with her drawings here in the blog. This post features the story's beginning and the first couple pictures.  Sooby and I hope you enjoy it and will continue to follow it through the next two blog posts.]

Jacky Joe's Halloween Party
When Jacky Joe's mama tucked him into bed on the night before Halloween, he felt a little bit scared.  "Mama?" he asked.  "What if a ghost flies by my window and hollers "BOO!" and tries to haunt my room?"

"You won't be scared," Mama said, smoothing the wrinkles out of Jacky Joe's top blanket.  "Just invite him to your party."

Jacky Joe thought about the Halloween party he was planning for the next day.  He was looking forward to wearing his dinosaur costume.  He was looking forward to bobbing for apples and eating chocolate cupcakes with orange frosting.

But did he really want a ghost at his party?  Jacky Joe wasn't sure--so he thought some more.

"Mama?" he asked.  "What if a witch rides by on her broomstick and cackles and covers the moon with her scary black shadow?"

"You won't be scared," Mama said, bending down to give Jacky Joe a good-night kiss on the forehead.  "Just invite her to your party."

Jacky Joe wondered what it would be like to have a witch at his party.  She might dip her broom right into the sparkling orange punch.  Worse yet, she might let her black cat eat all the chocolate cupcakes with orange frosting.


Did he really want a witch at his party?  Jacky Joe didn't think so--but he thought some more.

"Mama?" he asked.  "What if a spider tiptoes across my pillow in the dark, and his eight tickly legs crawl right through my hair?"  The thought that this might happen scared Jacky Joe the most.  But his mama remained calm.

"You won't be scared," she said, turning to leave Jacky Joe's room.  "Just invite him to your party."

Jacky Joe definitely did not want a spider at his party.  That would be just too creepy, and it might scare all his friends away.  Why, that spider might even bite him right through his dinosaur costume!  Just as he was beginning to think some more, Jacky Joe fell into a troubled sleep.

To Be Continued . . .


Sunday, October 7, 2012

Tigger Bounces into Bootsie's Birthday

Dear Bootsie:

Sorry I am a few days late with your birthday letter.  But I have a good reason.  I just got home this afternoon from spending three great days with you, Sooby, and Pooh while Mama, Daddy, and Baby Zoomba went on a weekend trip.  You guys kept me very busy.  But let me take time now to remind you what all we did during the weekend of your second birthday.

First, we ate chocolate cake and ice cream, a feat that you managed much better this year than last year when you turned one.  This time, you didn't need to go straight from the high chair to the bathtub. You are growing up.

Speaking of which, it is probably time for you to think about ditching the diapers.  That is quite a trick you do, climbing up onto Zoomie's changing table and waiting for me to come and change you.  You are as big as the tabletop, and maneuvering a diaper underneath you in such close confines is not that easy.  I think Mama plans to stuff your Christmas stocking this year with big girl underwear, so you might as well get ready.

This was the year Pa-pa and I brought you the Elmo toy that snores and plays a lullaby when you push his tummy, and it was a lot of fun to see how much you liked it.  But my favorite memory of your second birthday weekend will always be the one about Tigger.

Of all the kids, you have been the one most taken with Googie's Winnie-the-Pooh shirt (clearance rack at Sear's last winter).  So I wore it to your house three days ago on your birthday.  Remember it?  It looks like this, a yellow long-sleeved shirt sporting a picture of Winnie-the-Pooh and Eeyore:

When you saw the shirt this time, you studied it disapprovingly.  I couldn't imagine what was wrong.  It turns out, you were disappointed because Tigger wasn't there along with his pals from the Hundred Acre Wood.  I didn't know how I was going to fix this problem, But then, you figured out what to do.  Once again, you climbed on the changing table and picked off a little stuffed Tigger from the mobile hanging above it.  You brought Tigger to me and demanded that I attach it to the above scene.  This is the best I could do:

Understandably, I felt a little funny going around all evening with Tigger protruding in this manner, but he does look happy, I guess, and having him there certainly made you happy. 

I wish for you always to be happy, sweet little girl.  Your smile lights up a room and warms my heart.  Tigger, Elmo, and Googie all hope you had a happy, happy birthday.


P.S. I hate to hijack your birthday letter, Bootsie, but I want our other friends to know about something coming up in the blog later this week.  Last week, I wrote a Halloween story for a local contest, so I tried it out on the kids this weekend.  I asked Sooby, now a kindergartener, if she wanted to draw some pictures to go with it, and she was greatly excited to be an "illustrator."  So, while I am in this highly irregular (for me) picture-posting mode on the blog, I am going to publish the short story in three installments, complete with the illustrations that Sooby drew.  It is called "Jacky Joe's Halloween Party," and Sooby and I hope you enjoy the fruits of our teamwork.  We certainly did.