Feeling Gookie

November 10, 2012 § 5 Comments

Hey all, sorry it has been over two weeks without a post around here.  I’ve been quite busy in every aspect of my life… except blogging.  Since my last post: I’ve been buried under a pile of tofurkies, getting ready for Thanksgiving in the Whole Foods frozen aisle; entered the home stretch of the second draft of the novel I’m working on (with my pages today, the protagonist is trapped in the house but hasn’t yet discovered murderer is in there with her); and got engaged to the lovely and talented Jenny McDougal!!!!

I’ve also been hard at work at Red Bird Chapbooks and am proud to announce Shaun Rouser’s A Family Affair will be the first project I’m overseeing as fiction editor.  Mr. Rouser has a strong voice and infectious intelligence, and the three stories that will make up the chapbook all have a subtly morbid sense of irony.  A Family Affair should be out some time early 2013, but in the mean time you can tease yourself with his short story “The Unfinished Letter” on Colloquium.

I hope I don’t hurt any readers’ feelings, but as crazed as I’ve been by all this work, I haven’t really even thought about The Oldest Jokes in the World much recently.  I feel a bit like Harpo’s Gookie face as I sink deeper into my work, further from any consciousness of the outside world.  In his (surprisingly well-worded) autobiography, Harpo Speaks!, Harpo explains the inspiration for the face that became his first turn as a comedic performer:

Gookie worked at a low table, facing the Avenue through the window.  He was a lumpy little man with a complexion like the leaves he used for cigar wrappers, as if he’d turned that color from overexposure to tobacco.  He always wore a dirty, striped shirt without a collar, and leather cuffs and elastic armbands.  Whether he was at his table in the window or running errands for the cardplayers, Gookie was forever grunting and muttering to himself.  He never smiled.

Gookie was funny enough to look at when he wasn’t working, but when he got up to full speed rolling cigars he was something to see.  It was a marvel how fast his stubby fingers could move.  And when he got going good he was completely lost in his work, so absorbed that he had no idea what a comic face he was making.  His tongue lolled out in a fat roll, his cheeks puffed out, and his eyes popped out and crossed themselves.

I used to stand there and practice imitating Gookie’s look for fifteen, twenty minutes at a time, using the window glass as a mirror.  He was too hypnotized by his own work to notice me.  Then one day I decided I had him down perfect–tongue, cheeks, eyes, the whole bit.

I rapped on the window.  When he looked up I yelled, “Gookie!  Gookie!” and made the face.  It must have been pretty good because he got sore as hell and began shaking his fist and cursing at me.  I threw him the face again.  I stuck my thumbs in my ears and waggled my fingers, and this really got him.  Gookie barreled out of the store and chased me down the Avenue.  It wasn’t hard to outrun such a pudgy little guy.  But I’ll give Gookie credit.  He never gave up on trying to catch me whenever I did the face through the window.

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It feels good to be absorbed in my work, to lose track of everything else, self-conscious doubts included.  But rest assured, come December—when this draft is done and the all the tofurkies are cooked—I will look up from my slobbery blunt to chase you guys around some more.

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