Na Na Na Na Boo Boo (And Some Larkin)

Before I get into my story, please take a moment help some people out:

Donate to the Asia earthquake/tsunami aid effort at the MCC website. As you know, I am pretty much areligious at this point in my existence, but with MCC, a full 85 cents out of every dollar you donate goes directly to the area of need, using only about 15% of contributions for overhead costs, which, if you know how much a lot of non-profit organizations use for overhead, is super freaking excellent. Also, the Canadian government will be matching funds donated to non-governmental organizations who apply for it that are presently responding to the need in South and Southeast Asia, so giving $50 is like giving $100. Go do it! Now! I said go!


One of the first differences I noticed upon moving from one province to another when I was seven years old was cultural. There are always subtle variations no matter how homogeneous the Christian middle-class sub-strata may appear. I belonged to that Christian middle-class sub-strata, and until our big move to the neighbouring province in the summer of 1980, I had pretty much assumed that the sameness I had experienced between my friends, neighbours, and fellow churchgoers would carry over to my new home. I was only seven and had thus far lived a suburban existence, so my experiences had been limited. What did I know?

After the furniture had arrived at our new house and my bedroom had been put in some kind of cursory order, my mother marched me out to the front step, pointed down the street at two kids about my age, and told me to go say hello. I didn’t want to, but she insisted, saying that the longer I waited, the harder it would be.

It was just the sort of warm, dry, and windless day that would become all too familiar as a fierce drought dug itself in. Shielding my eyes with my right hand, I peered down the street at the two girls my mother had indicated. One girl was brown with a poker-straight pageboy haircut, and the other was fair with freckles and had strawberry-coloured hair braided down the middle of her back. They appeared to be focussing all of their concentration on the bumper of a parked car.

I have always been a bit of a dawdler. No, I am going to contest the preceding statement. Others have often called me a dawdler, and I was fairly well-known for my dawdling abilities when I was younger, but I would like to object to this unfair label. I am a thinker and a dreamer, and when I was a child this thinking and dreaming would slow my body’s forward movement down considerably. Physical things just seemed so much less important when I was contemplating Time or the possibility of a soul or wondering if I could create a papier mâché structure strong enough to withstand the pressure of something weighing however much I did at the time.

The point is, it was taking me a very long time to make my way down the street to introduce myself. I felt awkward and shy and completely vulnerable, so I spent my time twisting a short lock of hair by my ear and trying to suss out their friendliness or lack thereof by the intonations of their voices and the style of their body movements. The light one walked mostly on her toes, flipping her braid occasionally when she bent over, and the dark one stood back, taking a less active part in the action. Beyond that, I gleaned little else. My mother motioned me onward from the shade of the front step. It seemed to me that since I was creeping in that direction anyway, I may as well get it over with. Also, the strawberry-haired girl turned in my direction and yelled Hey, come over here!, which pretty much cemented the course of my action.

Being on a suburban crescent meant my street was devoid of even the echo of vehicular traffic during office hours, but I looked both ways before crossing the street anyway, giving myself an extra moment or two to collect myself. New people always made me anxious, then as now. As I approached, the light girl stood with her hands on her hips and her head tilted against the sun, eyes squinted tightly to make shadows. The darker girl stepped back and crossed her arms, a grin that looked slightly sarcastic pressing against her teeth.

We introduced ourselves to each other, sharing our names. They were Ellen (redhead) and Robin (brunette). Are you nice? Ellen asked me. Yeah, I answered. Good, she replied, because the last girl who lived in your house was a snob. She poked my bare arm, then, and said It. You’re It. We were playing that you had to be touched by a ball, but it’s stuck under the car now. And just like that, we started becoming friends. Time happens more slowly in childhood, and so confidence can take root quickly with unspoken promises of mutual acceptance.

Ellen’s finger pressing into my arm signalled the beginning of the first game the three of us ever played. Even Robin laughed while we chased each other across our neighbours’ front yards. At one point, Ellen raced out from a hiding spot behind a gate, tagged me hard with a fist in my shoulder, and shouted Na na na na boo boo.

I stopped dead in my tracks. What? I asked. The whiny sing-song cadence was familiar, but the sounds for the two final beats were new to me.

Na na na na boo boo, she restated matter-of-factly. Why? What do you say?

Everyone says “na na na na na na”, I replied, as though correcting her English.

No they don’t. Everyone here says “na na na na boo boo”. Who says “na na na na na na”? That sounds stupid.

I felt like I had a stone in my stomach. This was not home. I had almost forgotten that while we were playing and we were all like anyone else. This was a strange place, a foreign place. I didn’t know these girls, my bedroom smelled funny, I didn’t know where any of the good hiding places were or where the school was. Even though it was still much too early, I told them I had to go home for supper and turned back up the street to the new house. I crawled into the middle of my bed and cried quietly to myself. No one says “na na na na boo boo”, I told myself. At least, none of my real friends did.

And that’s all it took to depress the hell out of me. That one small cultural difference pointed out to me the reality that I would never go home again. And to this day, truly, I never felt that sense of home the way I once did. Sure, in bits and pieces – in a favourite blanket, a good book, in the Fiery One’s embrace, I find it for a while – but no place holds that feeling for me consistently. I have never gone home again since that hot afternoon.


Home Is So Sad” by Philip Larkin


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