Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The Wuggie Norple Story: a story of addiction and recovery

Perhaps you've heard of the children's author Daniel Pinkwater. Perhaps you know the name because he reviews kids' books for NPR's weekend edition. Or, perhaps, like me, the name didn't ring any bells when you came across it at the dump.

It was a Saturday, and not unlike many Saturdays before this one, I found myself with my family at the dump.

At this point, I should fill you in on a few things. One is that my husband and I revel in scrounging- uh, recycling, if you will. I used to regularly give guests the thrift shop tour of our apartment, informing them which objects used to be part of which others and which pieces of furniture came from which thrift stores, how little we'd paid for them and how they used to look before they were painted, recovered, or otherwise improved upon post-sale.

Just this past weekend we spent a glorious Saturday morning garage saling. We scored a barbecue, a CD rack in the shape of a lizard for Isaac, and several cans of paint with which to paint the bookcase we'd recently dragged home that someone had left out by the curb for trash.

The other thing you need to know (in case you're getting images of my baby boy scaling a land fill and battling seagulls for treasures hidden under rotting garbage) is that our dump has a store. It's called Last Chance Mercantile.

Not long ago, Mike had found Isaac a couple Clifford books there that he adores, so we were again checking out the book section when we discovered an orange hardcover picture book with a cat on the front, and no dust jacket: The Wuggie Norple Story. Flipping through, I knew we wouldn't be leaving behind the illustrations of a groovy hipster family and a cat named Wuggie Norple. Those were two quarters we could part with.

Mike drove home and I read aloud. Lunchbox Louie, the whistle fixer, and his wife, Bigfoot the Chipmunk, had a son, King Waffle, and an ever-growing kitten Wuggie Norple. I couldn't make this up if I tried, but, you see, that's the point, Daniel Pinkwater did. I can't remember the last time I laughed so hard. The kind of laugh where no noise comes out at first, then it bursts forward in a choked rush of hilarity.

A dog enters the story – Freckleface Chilibean, then a six-year-old razor back hog named Papercup Mixmaster.

I rocked back and forth in my seat gasping, my seatbelt the only thing restraining me from doubling over. Tears swelled in Mike's eyes, and I started to worry that maybe he should pull over.

Behind us, Isaac was growing more and more concerned. “Mama! Mama!” he called frowning and pulling his index fingers down his little cheeks. “No, Isaac, Mama isn't really crying. Well, I am, but I'm happy.” “Mama!” he called again, unappeased.

The horse's name was Exploding Poptart, the elephant's Laughing Gas Alligator. There were wild caterpillars, whistles whittled out of carrots, picnics at Nosewort Pond.

“It's okay, Isaac,” Mike got out between snorts. “Mommy and Daddy are having fun.”

Isaac wouldn't let us read him the book when we got home. “Aw, c'mon!” we begged. “This is the best book ever!” “No!” he said with finality, stomping away.

Okay, so some people even though they love their kids and want the best for them, still can't get off the drugs? It was like that.

Mike and I tag-teamed at the computer, obsessively looking up information about Daniel Pinkwater and Wuggie Norple. His window, open to Pinkwater books on was covered over by my window of the Daniel Pinkwater homepage, then both were blotted out with the text of an interview Pinkwater'd done for a publication called “Fat!So?”

I'd arrive home to find the book in the middle of the kitchen table. “Been reading Wuggie?” I asked Mike. “Isaac didn't want to,” he shrugged.

The peak of our addiction came when we discovered copies of the book – paperback edition – were going for like 200+ bucks. Not that we'd part with ours.

Things had just about gotten back to normal, Isaac even let us read him the book once in a while, when, on a trip to the library yesterday I found Pinkwater's book Spaceburger. Isaac would have none of it. I mean, one of the pages didn't even have a picture! “But,Isaac, the boy who said 'Ho' instead of 'Hi;' the song about lovely ravioli!?”

It wasn't easy, but I walked away. I figured I best go home and work on lesser habits - maybe paint our roadside bookcase. I stroked Spaceburger's light blue cover and then turned. I scooped up the truck books, the dinosaurs going to bed, the one about bugs, and didn't look back.

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