Kootzer McFoodle sharing a bon mot with the frog statue in front of Prescott Public Library
Addicted to the offerings of Netflix and Amazon Prime, I have of late found myself ensnared in the web of those adrenaline-charged Jason Bourne movies. I marvel at what Ludlum hath wrought.
I’ve come to contemplate the titles of all those big, important books penned by him and his ilk: the commercial blockbusters, the spy thrillers. The Bourne Identity. The Holcroft Covenant. The Odessa File. The Whatever Whatever.
Could I ever write something like that?
I’m afraid not.
I could write The Boofterschneest Imperative. That’s what I could write.
“Boofter” and “Boofterschneest” are made-up words.
You see, I have my own fabricated language. It’s how I take flight from the world. Those with the misfortune of knowing me “all too well” get dragged into it. My wife even calls me a Boofterschneest. Barb’s a zombie now; she’s been bitten. She understands me. When we go to the movies and I say “I’m gonna procure Duddage,” she knows I am going to buy Milk Duds.
How did this penchant for nonsense and wordplay ever begin?
I worshipped my father, we’d better start there. It’s less and less a surprise to me, as the years go by, to realize that every breakthrough in my therapy ends up being about coming to terms with him. Irving Gitlin was a journalist and public relations executive who made a lot of money being a writer. But there was a flip side to Dad. He needed the shadow personality of the anal-retentive goofball to offset the frowning intellectual, the man burdened with Big Ideas. He compensated with a nonsense language, renaming everyone in his family.
My mother, Eleanor, became “Dahss.” Don’t ask why. He never knew. He flirted as well with “Totch,” but “Dahss” moved to the fore as the main alteration.
My Aunt Ronnie had been (perversely, or so she thought) named Rowena. My father called her “Rawoochkie,” which shrank to “Wooch.” All my life he called Aunt Ronnie “Wooch.”
Mom and Aunt Ronnie’s younger brother, Larry Schlossberg, Dad dubbed “Schlo.”
My father found me serious and philosophical beyond my years. In fact, my mom and dad used to sit on the couch trying not to burst out laughing as I stood before them, at five or six, manfully channeling Sinatra’s “Love and Marriage.” To Dad I was “Old Man,” in recognition, I think, of this precocious gravity.
But my favorite of Dad’s affectionate designations for me was “Kootzer McFoodle.” Kootzer McFoodle was a legend to whom Dad ascribed all sorts of gestes and proclivities. Dad wrote epic doggerel in his honor. He even sang a song, to the tune of “The Mexican Hat Dance,” whose chorus was “Rah, rah, Kootzer McFoodle / Rah, rah, macaroni and noodle …”
Now I must say, at the risk of complicating this account, that to this day my brother says he was Kootzer McFoodle. But I insist it was I, not he, who drew the distinction … unless Dad was stringing us both along, and there were two sons thus endowed. Hmm. We’ll never know. Mom might have shed light after Dad’s departure, but both she and Dad are resting in Mount Olive Cemetery, serenely silent. Maybe Marty and I’d better get a ouija board.
In what I regard as the most exquisite of all of my father’s name perversions, my little sister Nina would, in Happy Birthday and other endearments penned by this literary madman, became “La Ouine.” Think French. Pronounced “La Ween,” it’s short for “Nini da Weenie.”
We all inherited the nonsense bug.
I called my little brother Marty “Ginch.” It just happened. I believe generating nonsense words is like industrial food production; you need the right blend of flavoring ingredients and textures. I liked the mouth feel of “Ginch.”
My older sister Lisa would call me “Tugboat,” though more often than not these days (that’s right, we’re still silly) it’s “Crunchy.”
I have been known to call Lisa “Lizard la Stinks” — or, in her own cooperative rendering, “Lyzzard la Stynxx”; at least that’s how she signed off on greeting cards — as well as “Stinkpisher.” She never complained. Lisa always was a good sport.
My younger sister was not so sanguine. When I took to calling Nina “Lardinski” or “Lardfarber” – though, and I want this noted, she was never fat — she would, upon gaining clarity and closure during psychotherapeutic counseling, send me a long email in which she took me to task for giving her a low self-image. Fittingly shocked and appalled at the memory, at how nonsense can cross over into unwitting abuse, abuse of those you love and take for granted, I went into abject mea culpas in the apology I emailed her back.
Nonsense can be dangerous. So why do I descend into it?
I guess it’s tempting to reject seriousness altogether. My brother has made a career of embracing juvenalia, even studying its allure with all the hairsplitting exactitude of the adult mind, whether the subject is the most iconic breakfast-cereal box, the funniest of the Three Stooges, or the greatest episode of Gomer Pyle.
I envy him. I can’t live in that world.
I’ll end with this, because I still feel bad about something I just admitted. One of my nicknames for Nina was affectionate and benign. I called her “Ninian.” The long version was “Ninian the Virginian in My Opinion.” Nina told me once that Mrs. Krausz, the Wagnerian piano teacher who came to our house to give us lessons, had even taken to calling her “Ninian.”
Lisa and I took lessons too but dropped out. I got stuck on a Beethoven sonata and that was it. I was too busy smoking marijuana and listening to the Beatles’ white album. I always felt bad about quitting those lessons, even though I wasn’t very good.
I’m glad Mrs. Krausz found me amusing.
Good thing Nina didn’t tell her about a song I used to sing to her at the top of my lungs: “Nina Vagina lives in North Carolina!” Nina being pronounced “Neina,” of course, to rhyme with the other words.
I guess you can play by the rules and work your ass off and bow meekly before all the false idols of modern civilization and sink to your welcome death, a hapless drudge. Or you can fall into the arms of absurdity, rejecting all Reality … only to discover another kind of folly lurking there.
With all its risks, I’ll still stand with absurdity.
At least with the nonsense world, being inappropriate, or at least incongruous or senseless, is the whole point. It’s not supposed to be “right.” It’s not supposed to add up. And that’s a good thing, a bit of solace in this meaning-choked world.
And therein endeth this sermon.
You can order a paper transcript at McFoodle Publications, 147 Schnarglefrummitz Lane, New York, NY 10022.