Our son’s maternal grandmother was a kindergarten teacher, consequently we’ve inherited children’s books spanning both the decades of her career and those of her own child-rearing. We’ve inherited a library dating back to the 70s with many gems and as many that seem to be cultural artefacts form a parallel universe.
Among the my son’s current favorites is this peculiar title credited to a one “Theo. LeSieg.” Thanks to my superhuman ability to decipher anagrams (the result of mild dyslexia), I immediately recognized the surname as a mirror of “Geisel,” as in Theodor Geisel who is perhaps better known as Dr. Seuss. Though this was apparently no secret to either publishers or readers, it was a revelation to me and for a moment I felt like Dan Brown’s Harvard-bred symbologist Robert Langdon. And nearly as fictional to boot.
Apparently Geisel used the backward nom de plume for books he authored but did not illustrate. Among them is Wacky Wednesday, which steps up the surreality of most Seuss works with a Buñuel-like play on the banal – a shoe on the wall. Then there are two shoes on the wall. Then the androgynous protagonist observes:
“Then I looked up and said, ‘Oh, MAN!’
And that’s how Wacky Wednesday began.”
The shoes become a leitmotif of the book – book that grows more psychedelic by the page. The illustrations by George Booth have all the expected flouting of the laws of physics as well as myriad missing limbs and the occasional student sans head. Booth likely honed his merry-meets-macabre style when drafted during WWII and, later, the Korean War to draw for Marine Corps rag Leatherneck.
Throughout, Wacky Wednesday, the protagonist is counselled against the perception that anything is amiss. The first admonition comes courtesy of the Sutherland Sisters, triplets in matching school uniforms (though one is missing her legs and another’s head is detached at the collar), who chide the kid that “Nothing is wacky around here but you!”
Apparently, conformity is the rule. Anything straying outside the rigid norms of this suburban enclave’s systematic denial is simply ignored. Moreover, normality, whatever it means here, is strictly enforced by the institutions and their proxies. When the kid informs his teacher that wackiness as infected her class, she completely loses her shit and expels him:
“Nothing is wacky here in my class! Get out! You’re the wacky one! OUT!”
You can all but hear the students chanting “We don’t need no education…” Also, a careful observer will also spy a caricature of Karl Marx presumably undergoing his state-mandated “re-education.”
Loosed on the streets (now a mosaic of bad acid moments worthy of Roger Corman’s The Trip) the kid has a run-in with a three-legged officer of the law. The cop, a red-haired Irish stereotype named McGann, tasks the kid with finding 20 additional wacky bits “and then you can go back to bed.” This amounts to a kind of Orwellian “doublethink,” wherein an agent of the state all but affirms that reality contradicts the edicts of the Party, yet he prescribes some mental busywork that will apparently alleviate the disparity (which does not exist). It recalls this exchange from 1984:
“How can I help seeing what is in front of my eyes? Two and two are four.”
“Sometimes, Winston. Sometimes they are five. Sometimes they are three. Sometimes they are all of them at once. You must try harder. It is not easy to become sane.”
And, of course, it works: “Wacky Wednesday was gone when I counted them all. And I even got rid of that shoe on the wall.”
WTF, Dr. Seuss? Perhaps I’m reading too much into Wacky Wednesday but even if I were to read “too little” into it, it still comes off as a polemic about the virtues of social conformity. Maybe I need to spend more time with adults. Or maybe I just need to count all the wacky bits so I can go back to bed. Maybe I just did.
Perhaps it’s just another Wacky Wednesday when one should accept that, all in all, you’re just another shoe on the wall.