Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Birth of the Woobie

Listen. My brother and I--we're strange. We have odd imaginations. We are both capable of concocting full-on fantasies, alternate worlds, strange characters that crop up in our everyday lives. My first foray into the make-believe world was at the side of my imaginary friend, Funny Cowboy, who lived in a treehouse not unlike the one featured on Mr. Dressup. Funny Cowboy was just that: a wise-cracking, pistol-brandishing boy who was my best friend until I went to school and got real friends.

When Funny Cowboy faded from my life, I didn't stop pretending. I just started pretending in a quieter, more private way. I began to write stories in my head whenever I was bored--times when I was mowing the lawn, cleaning my room, riding in a car.

And I wasn't the only one who could do that. My brother did it too. But while I liked to dabble in the world of humans, my brother liked to dabble in the world of animals. He particularly liked gophers. When he was little, he came up with his favorite character: Nelson, a chubby bachelor gopher who was looking for love. My brother used to tell elaborate stories about Nelson and his quest to get his girlfriend Regina to marry him. He used to run around the house singing, Ding-a-ling! Nelson's collar is ringing! Ding-a-ling! At the time, my mother and I thought that meant he'd dreamed up some collar that had a phone on it, and whenever my brother came around saying the collar was ringing, we would say, "Hello? Hello? Who's there? How are you doing?" and my brother would look at us like we were crazy. Apparently he meant there was a tiny bell on Nelson's make-believe collar and it was tinkling.

This, I suppose, was the birth of the woobie.

My brother learned the term woobie when he watched Mr. Mom (the woobie makes an appearance here). My brother and I both had woobies when we were kids, but we for sure didn't call them that. Mine was a pink cloth bunny from Fisher-Price that I would loop through my fingers as I sucked them. I would rub the satin edges of the bunny on my upper lip as I sucked my fingers, and this repetitive action reduced the bunny to shreds several times. My mother often had to perform emergency surgery--sewing ears back on, for example--when I was napping, the one time she could scoot that bunny out of my arms. She and my father had to plan a major coup after the bunny had been shredded down to his very last satin. I needed a new one. So they replaced the bunny one afternoon and told me, "Surprise! The bunny went on vacation and came back all new!" I fell for it. What a sucker.

My brother's woobie was a thick and fluffy green blanket he called Menomop. Back then, my brother's speech patterns weren't exactly sophisticated. He liked to name lots of things with words that ended in -op. I had (still have) a teddy bear he named Bedobop, and that's the only name he's ever had (and will ever have). My brother's Menomop still sits on his bed at my father's house, and I know for a fact he cuddles that thing whenever he comes home.

But those things weren't woobies in our world. As he got older, my brother transformed the word into a whole new term. Nelson was a woobie. Nelson's wife Regina was a woobie. Our cat was a woobie. Anything small, cute, and furry was a woobie. My brother went so far as to make an elaborate book--the Woobinary--that classified and explained why each animal considered a woobie actually was a woobie. There was a complicated classification process that considered each animal's size, weight, height, and type of fur.

And woobies made noises. For a long time, we thought my brother might have a promising career as a sound effect guy or a stand-up comedian because he went around making noises with his every move, creating noises that went along with his make-believe, making up a whole woobie language--Woobish--that he would speak to us at the dinner table. It was a funny language of bops! and meeps! that we all liked to mimic. Especially my father. He loved to break out in Woobish at the strangest times--at the doctor's office, at a Christmas party, on the phone at work. He and my brother still occasionally--well, probably more than occasionally--greet each other in Woobish. "Hey, Woob," my father will say, and my brother will say, "Merhp!" and then my father will say it back. After that, every other syllable will be a bop or a meep or a merhp.

My brother won't always do it when you ask, but sometimes--when he's feeling generous, when he's feeling cheeky--he'll do it on command. I request it at family parties, on long car rides, and at dinner. I can't help it--it amuses me. It makes me think back to a time when my brother was ridiculously tiny, cute, and funny. It makes me think back to times when he and I would sit in the middle of the living room floor and share stories of our make-believe worlds. Ding-a-ling! my brother would say. Ding-a-ling! Nelson's home! We would do voices and speak in Woobish and make up elaborate plots for our characters until we got sick of each other. Then we would go our separate ways, but the very next day we would start over again.

It was a nice time, a fun time, and I like to remember it as much as possible. And beg for Woobish to be spoken as much as possible, too. It's rarely been caught on film, but here is a snippet, an eensy glimpse into the world of the Woobie.

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