Books Are Pretty

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Hooway for Wodney Wat!

When I was eighteen and doing summer stock in North Carolina, a bunch of us spent one of our days off hiking the Appalachian Trail. We stopped by a waterfall to take a break, and as we watched the water spill over the cliff and dash down to the churning pool below, Joanne gasped.

"What? What?" we all asked.

"I'm having an acid flashback," she replied, staring at the water. "I'll be okay, but you should probably know that right now I'm watching a totally different show from the rest of you."

Her eyes pinwheeled toward the rushing water for several minutes. "Whoa," she whispered. "Whoa."

I had to get up very early this morning (okay, 7:00) to go to work. I slept as late as I could, thinking that the time would be better spent giving up coffee than having extra facetime with the pillow. This thinking was wrong-headed, as the first knock from the caffeine-withdrawl headache fairy started poking me on the back of my skull the second I backed out of the driveway. I pulled into the first Caribou Coffee I saw and oozed through the door, all crusty-eyed and crabby. Sitting in the coffee shop were a group of women, mostly crusty-eyed and crabby themselves, clutching large paper cups of coffee and hanging grimly in there. Some sadist had obviously scheduled some sort of Sunday morning business meeting, perhaps the chic-looking silver-haired woman in her late fifties, propped casually against a barstool to better show off her long, thin legs wrapped in carefully distressed denim. Every now and then, she gave her head a brief jerk, tossing back her hair and exposing tasteful gold hoop earrings as she smoothly led the meeting through the details of her company's workweek, explaining that the Blinker Widgets were still on back order until June, and that the soddering was weak on the Flipper Floos and you all know what that means!

Most of the half dozen or so women attending the meeting stared at her, focusing just enough to avoid accusations of inattention, but not so much that they gave the impression that they could be relied on to answer any questions. One woman, who was clearly shared rank with the crusty-eyed miserable ones, but just as clearly desired to set herself apart as the One Who Cared the Most, had positioned herself at the right hand of the Team Leader, and was forcefully answering all the leader's questions, including the rhetorical ones, and additionally volunteered large amounts of anecdotal information on Blinker Widgets, Flipper Floos, and every other subject raised. She loomed over all the other women, physically bigger and much, much louder. She filled up the whole room with her big mouth and her bigger brain, and I couldn't help but watch her, initially annoyed by the know-it-all and glad I wasn't trapped at that particular meeting.

The longer I watched the know-it-all while my coffee hissed and spit its way into my cup, the more familiar she looked. Soon, it was driving me a little nuts. I closed my eyes to help me remember where I'd seen her, and an image popped immediately into my head of her, enormous and looming over her frightened coworkers, a pink bow pinned to the back of her blonde head. I opened my eyes. No bow. I closed my eyes. Bow. Big bow...big mouth...big bow...big bully...big bow...And then, I knew. I knew, and everything slid into place. I was watching a meeting with Camilla Capybara, the giant rodent villian from Alex's book Hooway for Wodney Wat.

I was totally gobsmacked. Once the idea crystallized before me, it was like the pages of the book opened up underneath me and I fell in, right into Miss Fuzzleworth's classroom at P.S. 142 Elementary School for Rodents. Everything was the same, except for that missing pink bow. She was bigger than any of them, meaner than any of them, and smarter than any of them, and as the silver-haired Miss Fuzzleworth spoke, Camilla Capybara bellowed out her answers, her puffy, rodent-like face triumphant.

Miss Fuzzleworth asked, "What's 2 + 2?"

"Four!" shouted Camilla Capybara without bothering to raise her paw. "And furthermore, 4 + 4 is 8, 8 + 8 is 16, and 243 + 125 is 368!"

And later, when Miss Fuzzleworth asked,"What's the capital of-" Camilla interrupted, "New York. Albany. Population 295, 594."

And during science, when Miss Fuzzleworth shook her tasteful gold hoops and asked, "What plant structure is found beneath the ground?"

Camilla Capybara danced on her desk and sang,"Root! Root! Rooty-toot-toot!"

All the other mice and squirrels hid behind their coffee cups and whispered, "Yup, she's smarter than we are, too."

They felt very, very uncomfortable.*

It was identical. The same booming voice shouting out the correct answers, daring anyone to even try to answer or add something of merit. The same size difference between the capybara and the other mice, rats, and squirrels at the meeting.

It was awesome. I couldn't stop staring, my mouth open, my eyes pinwheeling toward the giant capybara, as if I was Dorothy, walking through the door from gray and rainy Illinois and into the glorious technicolor Caribou Coffee.

"Whoa," I whispered. "Whoa."
*dialogue and partial narration taken from Helen Lester's Hooway for Wodney Wat.

Hooway for Wodney Wat!
by Helen Lester
published in 2002
Paperback, 32 pages
ISBN-10: 061821612X

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