Copyright 1976 Richard Seltzer
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"Ome is the nicest part of Oz, with lakes and
trees and lots of grass for kids to roll in."
The Lizard of Oz, p. 4
"Barbarians! Absolute barbarians" Mr. Bacon was sizzling with anger. "Didn't anyone ever teach you how to eat a book?" And he picked up a little book from his desk and read, "'Once upon a space there was a time, a cute little time; her name was Now.'" And he said, "That's how to eat a book."
The Lizard of Oz p. 28
"Cindy had asked the librarian for the story about the little time named Now, and he'd given her a whole stack of stories by the same author. There was Julie's Book: the Little Princess, and Mary Jane's Book: the Book of Animals, and The Little Ooops Named Ker Plop, and there was even a big one called The Lizard of Oz, but she didn't have time to read that one."
The Lizard of Oz pp. 30-31
Once upon a space there was a time, a cute little time. Her name was Now.
Her father was Yesterday, and her mother was Tomorrow. And they loved her very much. But there was nobody around to play with.
Her big brother, Today, was twenty-four hours tall -- so big that she could hardly see his face. And it was very hard for him to bend way down and play with little Now.
There were many many times -- good times and bad times, long times and short times. But none of them was anywhere near as little as Now.
When her mommy saw how lonely she was, she told her, "We aren't the only times. We're a special class of times, a leisure class. There are many other times who have to work for a living, and maybe among them you can find some time just your size to play with."
So Now flew (for all time flies) to the land of working time. There was A-Time-to-be-Born and A-Time-to-Die, A-Time-for Sowing and A-Time-for-Reaping. There were big big times like A-Time-for-War and A-Time-for-Sorrow. But there were little times, too -- times almost as little as Now, times like A-Time-for-Peace and A-Time-for-Joy. So she asked A-Time-for-Joy if he'd like to play.
But he said, "Don't bother me. I'm busy. I've got no space to play in. All I do is have joy, joy, joy; everywhere nothing but joy. It's a drag, of course. And I'd love to play with you if I could. But a job's a job... Why don't you try A-Time-to-Play. He should be able to help you."
But A-Time-to-Play said, "You want to play? You've got to be kidding. I'd give you this job, glad to get rid of it. But the labor market's tight these days, and a time's got to eat. So I'm sorry, but I can't help you."
"But I want a time to play with. Just some time, any time. Don't any times play together? Surely you must know?"
"Most times around here are used to being by themselves. Afterall, we've got work to do. We're respectable. Only those good-for-nothing, lazy... Oh, there are times that play around."
"Mommy said that there'd be times like that."
"Yes. I might have figured as much. Tomorrow's not so far from being one herself."
"An indefinite. No reflection on your mother personally, Now. She
raised herself up from all that. She married a time of the leisure
class. She's respectable, Now. But what she came from... Don't get
me wrong, Now. What I'm saying is for your own good. You've got it
in your blood, and maybe your mother hasn't taught you. You see,
Now, Tomorrow's parents are Forever and Ever: two of the laziest,
most indefinite times in the universe. They play all right. All
they do is play, play, play. But they
have no fixed place in society like Yesterday and nine o'clock. And they don't do a bit of work. Why they're the very lowest class of time. And (but don't tell your mother I said this), Ever's brother, Never, is so low he isn't a time at all. He's an enemy of society, that's what he is. He's ..."
But Now didn't wait to hear the rest. She wanted to see her grandparents who she hadn't heard of before and to meet these merry times, these free and easy, happy-go-lucky times of the "lowest class."
And she liked Forever and Ever -- they were so much fun to talk to. But they were so big. She really couldn't tell just how big they were, but together they just seemed to have no end at all.
And she grew very, very unhappy because even here she couldn't find anybody her size to play with.
She saw him. And he saw her. And Now and Then. Then and Now played and played and played.
Now and Then -- the greatest playmates of all time.
Long ago, there was a castle with towers taller than church steeples, with stairs that wound round and around a thousand steps high. And at the top of one of those towers lived a little princess named Julie.
She had everything that a little princess could want: a crib, a warm blanket, a thousand steps to run up and down, a mommy, a daddy, and a thousand playmates.
This is a step. Color it up and down.
Every night her mother would tell her stories about witches and wicked step-mothers and fair damsels; and Prince Charming how always came to rescue them.
But the Princess wasn't a very happy princess. She wanted to be Rapunzel or Cinderella or Snow White or Sleeping Beauty. She wanted a wicked step-mother and a Prince Charming to rescue her.
Her mother loved her dearly and did everything to make the little princess happy. But the harder her mother tried to please her, the sadder the little princess became.
All the lucky little princesses, the ones that people told stories about, had wicked step-mothers, and Prince Charming rescued them and fell in love with them. And here she was a plain ordinary princess with a mother who loved her, and she was never miserable, and nobody ever treated her badly and Prince Charming would never come to rescue her.
This is a step mother. Color her wicked.
This is a tear. Color it never.
Prince Leroy and Princess Mary Jane and Prince James and Prince Ricky and Prince Raymond and Prince Michael and Prince David and Princess Penny and Prince Frank and Princess Desire and Prince Chuck and all the princes and princesses for miles and miles around wanted to play with Princess Julie. But she didn't want to play with anybody.
She shut herself up in the top of the tower, and she wouldn't let her mommy tell her stories, and she wouldn't even curl up in her crib with her blanket. She just sat on the stone ledge by her window and watched and waited. She'd make herself the most miserable little princess in the whole world, and Prince Charming would come galloping up on his white charger and carry her off to Neverneverland.
This is Prince Chuck. Color the helmet cheap and shiny.
Since the little princess wouldn't come down to the courtyard to play, her mother sent playmates up to the top of the tower. But soon all the princes and princesses got tired of just sitting in the top of the tower and watching Princess Julie wait for Prince Charming. All except Prince Chuck. Chuck liked to talk to the little princess.
"You mean you know how to make Prince Charming come to rescue you? I always wanted to meet Prince Charming. I mean I always wanted to find out where he got that white charger and shiny armor and how he finds fair damsels to rescue. And maybe if I wait here with you, and Prince Charming comes to rescue you, he'll tell me where I can find a fair damsel to rescue who'll fall in love with me and live happily ever after."
Then one morning, just after the milkman and the breadman, Prince Charming arrived.
The little princess was so excited she didn't know what to say or do. So Chuck did the talking, "Hello, Prince Charming. Where did you get that white charger and that shiny armor?"
"Jordan Marsh. They were on sale. Just $10.98. Regularly $15.45."
So Chuck ran off to Jordan Marsh to buy a white charger and shiny armor, and Prince Charming rode off to Neverneverland with Princess Julie.
The next day, Chuck rode all up and down Everydayland, showing off his white charger and his shiny armor.
But the armor was a bit tight and very heavy, and his bottom was sore from riding all day.
This is a bottom. Color it sore.
Besides, he had forgotten to ask how to find fair damsels in distress. And afterall, there was no reason to go riding around with shiny armor on a white charger unless you had a fair damsel to rescue.
Then an old hag with one magic eye drove up Main Street in a VW. She stopped next to Chuck and told him, "Sonny, if you're looking for fair damsels, (and I don't know what else you'd be doing in that get-up), there are hundreds of them in Neverneverland at Prince Charming's castle."
Suddenly, it occured to Chuck that Prince Charming had been rescuing damsels for years and years and taking them to Neverneverland. If he were a nice prince, he would have rescued only one damsel, or two, or three. But he had rescued hundreds and hundreds. What could he want with hundreds and hundreds of damsels, unless he was an ogre or something. Afterall, how many kids can a guy play with at a time?
So Chuck galloped off to Neverneverland and galloped right up to the gate of Prince Charming's castle.
This is Prince Charming's castle. Color it nevernever.
Prince Charming walked out in his pajamas, and he looked very very tired. But Chuck showed no mercy. He said, "Prince Charming, I demand that you free Princess Julie this very instant."
Suddenly, Prince Charming looked very very happy. "Why don't you take the rest of them, too? This is a terrible job rescuing damsels all the time. But the worst of it is that they just sit there in my castle and jabber away with each other and play dolls and things. I'm not as young as I used to be. I just can't take it anymore. In all these years, you're the first guy who ever asked for one of them back. Please take her. You're welcome to her and to as many others as you want."
These are Prince Charming's pajamas. Color them tired and wrinkled.
But Chuck only wanted Princess Julie. He picked her up, put her on his white charger and rode off with her back to Everydayland.
Chuck was very happy because he had rescued a fair damsel. He told everybody all about it, time and again.
But the little princess was very very sad because she missed all the friends and dolls and things at Prince Charming's castle.
And she was very, very mad at Chuck for taking her away from all that.
Ever after that, she did everything she could to make herself the most miserable little princess in the whole world so Prince Charming would rescue her again and carry her off again to Neverneverland.
But in spite of everything she did to make herself miserable, she lived happily ever after.
This is the little princess. Color her happily ever after.
It was summer vacation, and everything was different: Mary Jane didn't have to go to school, and everything she just loved turned into a car -- all the animals, that is.
Mary Jane just loved all sorts of animals. She loved horses, cows, and birds. And she was very sad when they turned into Mustangs, Mavericks and Falcons.
But Leroy was very happy. He followed Mary Jane all over town. Every time she saw a little pony and just loved it and it turned into a car, Leroy would jump in that car and drive it round and round.
Soon Leroy and James and Ricky and Raymond and Michael and David and Penny and Frank and Julie and Desire were looking all over Brockton for horses and cows and birds to take to Mary Jane so she'd just love them and they'd turn into cars. Even Miss Morgan went looking for horses and cows and birds because she was tired of her little green VW.
Everybody wanted a car of their own. Everybody wanted two cars, three cars, as many cars as they could get. Miss Morgan got ten cars, so many cars that she had no place to put them; so she stacked them in her front yard.
Soon there weren't any horses or cows or birds in all of Brockton. And Mary Jane was very very sad because she just loved animals. And Leroy and James and Ricky and Raymond and Michael and David and Penny and Frank and Julie and Desire and Mis Morgan were sad because they wanted more and more cars. And Miss Morgan's little green VW was very very sad because Miss Morgan never drove her anymore.
Mary Jane saw the little green VW crying, and she felt so sorry for that little green VW that she ran up to it and hugged it and just loved it.
All of a sudden, the little green VW turned into the sweetest little green animal that Mary Jane had ever seen. Mary Jane could tell by its tail that it wasn't a horse or a cow or a bird.
She had made a brand-new kind of animal: one that you could ride and that said "moo" when it was happy, and that had a beak like a bird.
Mary Jane rode the VW all over town. She just loved it so much that she just loved every car that she saw; and every car that she just loved turned into an animal -- until there weren't any cars left in Brockton, just horses and cows and birds and strange new animals,
At first everybody in Brockton, except Mary Jane, was very sad, because nobody had any cars anymore.
Then Mary Jane had a idea. She whispered it to Miss Morgan, and Miss Morgan told the mayor, and the mayor told the rest of the town. The next morning, Brockton officially opened as a zoo.
People came from all over the world to see the little green VW and the Darts and Thunderbirds and Saabs and Comets and Gremlins and other strange animals. And soon Brockton because the richest town in the whole world.
That fall, Mary Jane rode to school on the little green VW.
And Leroy and James and Ricky and Raymond and Michael and David and Penny and Frank and Julie and Desire and Miss Morgan rode on horses and cows and birds and brand-new animals. And everybody was happy -- especially the animals.
Once beneath a space there was an oops named Ker Plop. She had fallen all the way down through that vast empty space and had landed in the middle of nowhere.
Before she fell, her father, Mr. Plop, had warned her, "Remember, you're just an oops."
"What's an oops?" she asked.
"Well, when you aren't somebody, and you aren't anybody, and just one false step and you could become nobody, you're just an oops."
"Just an oops?"
"Just an oops. And you have to watch your step if you want to get anywhere."
"What's anywhere, Daddy?"
"Why anywhere's just down the street from somewhere, and everybody who's somebody lives somewhere."
"I don't understand, Daddy."
"Well, of course not. How could you? You're not anywhere yet. But any day now, any day, your chance may come. Just watch your step though. Watch your step, or you'll fall, Ker Plop, right down to the middle of nowhere."
She asked her mother, "What will my chance look like? I don't want to miss him. It would be awful to miss him. But how will I know him when I see him?"
"He'll come riding up on a white horse, and he'll be the handsomest man you've ever seen. And you'll hear bells ringing and feel a tingling up and down your spine."
"Did your chance ever come, Mommy?"
"No, he must have gotten lost somewhere."
"You mean sometimes you never have a chance?"
"Yes, sometimes he just never appears. But anytime he might. And you have to be ready or he'll just pass you by."
"That sounds awfully unfair."
"Yes, but what can an oops do? Just watch your step, like your father said; or you'll not only miss your chance, you'll end up in the middle of nowhere."
Then one day somebody drove up to her and started talking. He must have been somebody to have such a shiny new sports car, and he spoke like a somebody. When her parents talked, they were always hopeful but uncertain. It was always, "anywhere," "anybody," "anything," and it might happen "anytime." All these "any's" were just beyond their reach. Now this stranger talked about "somewhere," "somebody," "something," and "sometime" it might happen. He had control over the people and things of his world. And he could decide when the "sometime" would be when whatever he wanted would happen.
Maybe he was her chance. His name was Chauncey, and he was very handsome.
She got into the car with him, and off they drove.
Round and round they went. They went around together for the longest time. And Ker Plop got so dizzy she didn't know if maybe she was hearing bells and feeling tingles. And she had no idea how far they had gone, though it did feel like they hadn't really gone anywhere.
"When are you really going to take me away? And we'll go somewhere and do something?" she asked.
"Sometime. Just don't worry your pretty little head about it."
They kept going around together, around and around, until Ker Plop got so dizzy she slipped and fell.
"Can't you see I'm hurt?" she asked. "Take me somewhere, anywhere, Chauncey, quick."
"Look, kid, how can I take you anywhere? You're just a nobody."
And Chauncey drove off and left her there, and she went falling all the way down, till she landed in the middle of nowhere.
"Help!" she called.
And nobody came.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
"I fell all the way down, and now I'm in the middle of nowhere."
"There's nothing to worry about. Nothing at all. You've got a few bruises and a scratch on the knee there. But it'll all clear up in no time."
The nobody's name was Norris. He was a cute little guy who could do all sorts of things. He could build a house or make a funny face. "There's nothing to it," he'd say.
He didn't wait around saying, "Any day now, any day." He didn't keep putting things off saying, "I'll get around to it sometime." No, he always said, "There's no time like the present."
And together they didn't worry about getting anywhere or meeting somebody. And they didn't have to worry about ending up nowhere.
Soon they felt like they had everything they ever wanted. And they loved everybody, and everybody loved them. And they were at home everywhere.
Just the little oops named Ker Plop and the nobody named Norris.
Afterword: story of the stories
One spring day in 1970, I met Leroy, Mary Jane, James, Ricky, Raymond, Michael, David, Penny, Frank, Desire, and Chuck at Trailside Museum in Milton, Massachusetts. They were on a field trip from Brockton with their teacher, Miss Morgan. Their curiosity and enthusiasm sparked my imagination, and shortly thereafter I wrote stories for Mary Jane, Leroy, Raymon, and Julie. (Julie had been sick the day of the tirp. Miss Morgan told me about her.) I wrote "Now and Then" that same spring.
A year later, when Miss Morgan was teaching in Winthrop, I visited her new class and other classes at the same school and read them "Now and Then," "Julie's Book," Mary Jane's Book," and other stories of mine. When one of the kids asked what I was going to write next, I popped off with a few titles: "The Quest for the Holy Mackerel," "The Lizard of Oz"... They wanted to hear "The Lizard of Oz"; so I wrote a story with that title with the kids themselves as characters.
Just recently [this was written in 1976], a year and a half after my wife Barbara and I started our own little company and published The Lizard of Oz, East Elementary School in Sharon, Mass., performed that story as a play. The kids (third to sixth graders, plus one 5-1/2 year old) and their drama teacher, Kathy Smith, put on a delightful, imaginative and accurate production. Afterwards, several of the kids asked about my next book: what would it be? A couple days later I wrote "The Little Ooops Named Ker Plop."
I'd like to thank all those readers of The Lizard whose enthusiasm, help and encouragement made this book possible. I'd also like to thank Shirley Maltzman for introducing The Lizard to the kids in Sharon; Dave Gleason for his invaluable practical advice and the cover design; Ed Trobec for convincing me to go ahead and use my own drawings; and Gary Wolfe for his editorial advice.
And, of course I want to thank our executive vice president, my ever-patient, every enchanting wife, Barbara.
April 12, 1976
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