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Russell Frank: Farewell to the Woo People

by on May 18, 2012 6:00 AM

Today, I concede defeat. The Woo people have won. By the end of the month I will withdraw from the Woolands with all my chattels.

This was a war fought not with guns and steel, but with red plastic cups and loud music and wild cries in the night. I countered with righteous indignation. It was not enough. While I got grayer and balder and crankier, the Woo people drew on an inexhaustible supply of fresh recruits, cheap booze and hyper-caffeinated beverages.

Still, I am proud to say that I withstood their onslaughts for 16 years. Indulge, if you will, an old campaigner’s nostalgia for the battles of yesteryear:

The Sack of the Porch Furniture (c. 1995-2000) – I stepped out my back door to take the morning air and groggily thought the porch looked unusually tidy. A raiding party had come in the night and whisked away the table and chairs.

The Commandeered Corolla (c. 1995-2000) – On Halloween night, a band of Woo tribesmen tried the door to my station wagon, found it unlocked, released the parking brake, put the manual tranny in neutral and rolled the car down the driveway and across the street, where I found it, undamaged, on All Saints Day, rear wheels on the grass, front wheels in the street, driver’s side door open.

The False Peace Offering (c. 1995-2000) – A delegation of Woo warriors rang our bell one autumn afternoon to request permission to gather the leaves in our front yard for the purpose of re-scattering them on the dance floor inside their lodge house for an evening festival. We granted permission, then endured one of the Woo people’s more protracted sonic assaults.

The Assault on the Flower Bed (c. 2000-2005) – On another morning I discovered the removable door from an SUV nestled among the azalea bushes in my front yard.

The Occupation of the Driveway (2010) -- The tribal elders of the Woo people were in town that night. One of them daringly blockaded my driveway with his car. I called in reinforcements in the form of the local constabulary, who summoned a tow truck. Watching the removal of the offending vehicle – and the Woo daddy’s attempt to talk his way out of it -- was a satisfying spectacle.

The Panty Raid (2011) – This was a weak psych-ops attempt to distract or taunt the troops by festooning a perimeter plum tree with a thong.

Pretty tame stuff, all in all. Some of our allies endured worse, notably home invasions, where a besotted Woo tribesman stumbles into an unlocked house and passes out on a sofa or in a guest bedroom. Neighbors down the street were rudely awakened by a hammer crashing through their bedroom window.

But don’t feel sorry for, or question the sanity of, the people who have bought my house. Thanks, in part, to what appeared to be my best efforts to sabotage any sale by describing life in the neighborhood in my columns, they’re moving in eyes wide open, just as I did 16 years ago. I’m a journalist, after all. You think I bought a house in the Woolands without walking the neighborhood and asking everyone I met what it was like to live so close to all those Woo lodge houses?

The verdict: Yeah, it gets loud sometimes, but there are so many other nice things about the neighborhood that it’s worth it.

I found that to be true. When I think about my time in the Woolands I think less about the revelry than about reading bedtime stories to my children and playing wiffleball with them in the backyard.

I also appreciated commuting by bicycle or on foot to my job of lulling the Woo people to sleep after their nighttime frolics. I might have driven to work three times in all those years. I’ll miss that.

I’ll also miss my neighbors, who were an extraordinarily tolerant and neighborly bunch. After all, you have to be, to live among the Woo people.

In short, my departure from the Woolands has less to do with Woo people fatigue than four-bedroom house fatigue. With my youngest child graduating from high school this spring, I’m ready for a smaller house – and a smaller yard.

But first, Ukraine. I know it looks like I’m trying to get as far away from the Woo people as possible, but if that was my goal I would have arranged to spend my sabbatical in Perth, Australia. And if all I was trying to do was escape the late-night howls of the Woo people, Boalsburg would have sufficed.

That said, I do not intend to return to the Woolands at the conclusion of my year away from Penn State. After 16 years of close-range observation, I’m pretty sure I have gathered enough material to write my ethnography of this mysterious people.

Recent Columns:

Russell Frank worked as a reporter, editor and columnist at newspapers in California and Pennsylvania for 13 years before joining the journalism faculty at Penn State in 1998. He roots for the Yankees, plays blues guitar and harmonica (badly), bikes and hikes for physical exercise and does The New York Times crossword puzzle for mental exercise. He is, by academic training, a folklorist (Ph.D., UPenn), which means, when you strip away all the academic jargon, that he loves a good story. He is the author of "Newslore: Contemporary Folklore on the Internet." His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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