In every head: Gabagoo

My sister and I get into the car. We are ready and excited for our drive. It’s less than two hours. We will aim the car (and her very intelligent GPS system) at our other sister’s house in Ocean City, New Jersey, and then we will listen to music and podcasts. We are giddy.  

Each year during my visits, the shore rests high on the altar of things to do. It’s a time of utter relaxation and sun, sea, and gluttonous delights. To boot, my sister had procured a three-story shore house to put all others to shame (except of course for her four identical siblings that stood next to her and the no doubt hundreds of others that rich people own, but you get the point – the house was nice).  

My family consists of five ultraplanners and my mother. An ultraplanner – and if you have one in your life, you know – plans and then plans again and then plans again. Again. But it’s not schedules and plans. It’s the all-encompassing discussion of ‘what we’re going to do’. We’ll leave at 10ish and then have lunch on the way. Let’s hit a diner. When we get down there, let’s go to the beach first. No, first eat, then beach. Oh, boardwalk, then beach, then eat.

It goes like that for some time. And by ‘some time’ I mean the 11 months preceding the trip. But as ultraplanners, we understand that a great deal of the fun is in the anticipation and the fantasy. The lead up. The problem is, if an ultraplanner isn’t careful, they can let the actual moment pass before they know it.

My dad – ultraplanner X – began planning his trip to my sister’s shore house last October. Back then he would be spending a week down there and maybe doing some fishing. He’d mention reading by the water and wearing khaki at a bar in Somer’s Point, where he would eat seafood with his hands and tell tales to those around him (i.e. me). The whole thing sounded like Hemingway 2.0 (little booze and more sweets). By December, that week had been whittled down to three days, his activities has stopped including the fishing and walking. By April, another day had dropped off and the drinking was gone. By August, the trip had stopped including a night and he was driving down in the morning, having an invigorating day of sitting on the couch in another house that he didn’t own, and then driving back before the Phillies played the Giants. By the time we leave, he has decided not to go.

While we were frustrated, we do get it. See, tripping up the ultraplanner’s fantasy is this terrible thing called ‘reality’. Now, reality in my dad’s vision was a two hour drive, two hours away from any bathroom or TV. It’s like dreaming of being with a lover, but then realizing oh I have to spend all this time with them!? Reality is a jerk.    

My other sister and I arrive late Monday morning. My mom wave us into the spot out back, the sun is hot as we step out of the car, fortunately seconds later we step into an arctic-cold house. We ooh and aah at the place. so many couches. So many TVs. Cold. That’s OK – so many blankets!

The walls are filled with the kitschy decorations of shore houses. A crab tells us not to be crabby. A hermit crab on a beach pubs that life is a beach. It is glory after glory after glory. It’s three stories high, after climbing steps twice (another reality keeping my dad in Langhorne), I am not even all the way at the top of the house. I plop onto the couch. Outside, the far off sounds of people enjoying the water park and revelers moseying up the street towards the beach which is 100 feet away. My head is spinning. Joy.


My sister and I look at each other. “Did you just—”

“Gabagoo.” It comes again from some undisclosed locality. It echoes through the house.

We stare at each other.

“Gabagoo. Gabagoo.”

It comes around the corner. “Gabagoo.” There’s no malice to it at all. It’s not an aggressive word, nor is it wielded aggressively. Quite the contrary, there’s a rising lilt to it, an intonation that suggests that he’s answering a question that was obvious.

“Who’s in that room?”

“Duh, Gabagoo.”

Gah (like got without a T), Ba (like but without a T) Goo (like the way you explain something sticky). All together now – Gabagoo. That’s it.

Gabagoo becomes a permanent three-syllable part of the shore house. Gabagoo is said at dinner, Gabagoo is said at lunch and breakfast. Not once. Gabagoo is there. Where we go. Gabagoo follows. Sometimes Gabagoo is there first and before you walk into a room, you hear it in there waiting for you.


On Tuesday morning as I tried to locate my family on the beach, the crowd of people making it like a Waldo cartoon, I was guided by the distant audial lighthouse.


There were discussions and internet searches. My mother – always the voice of reason – believes it’s a drug reference. Several hours are devoted to disabusing her of this belief. And yet, as Gabagoo rings through the house afterwards, you can still see the worry on her face. It might as well be ‘Gabaheroin” or “Gabanosecandy.”

All we can do is let Gabagoo flow over us. And we do.

My sister and I are at a bar. She says we were desperate, I disagree, but she does win a point by noting that we cried and hugged our Uber driver when he arrived. Arnab, having correctly deduced that a safe space had been created between the three of us, told us of his goals in life, and while I was immensely impressed with the young man’s vigor and soul and charisma, all I heard was “I plan to own a gabagoo by the time I’m gabagoo. When I first moved to gabagoo I was living with three other gabagoos….”

There is no world. There is only Gabagoo.

We are joined by my brother and an old friend, Jen, with whom I’ve been friends for decades. She is a brilliant teacher and one of the funnier people I’ve ever known. Her story style resembles that of a rollercoaster and, though ½ of the people in our party don’t know the characters involved, they root and cheer and ask about them. She is wearing something she class a dress, which is clearly a shirt.

The two Gabagoos behind the bar are nice gents, also teachers, and the Philles are beating the Gabagoos by a solid margin. We drink Gabagoo after Gabagoo. We have fun.

At some point – I’d say sometime after the second shot of Gabagoo, Jen winks an eye and asks.

“So, what’s this word?”

“What word?”

“Gabagoo.” She pronounces it perfectly, rising intonation and all. It’s as though she’s been saying it for years. Maybe she has! My sister swings her head around. Is there a chance we’re on the brink of some knowledge. Is awaiting us some inlet of insight? Jen is far more keyed into pop culture than I am. I glimpse closure! I glimpse the face of Gabagoo!

“What do you mean? What does it mean?”

“What? Gabagoo?”

“Yes!” My sister grips the Gabagoo Jen’s trying to pass off as a dress. “What does it mean?!”

Jen looks worried. “I don’t know. You’re the ones who’ve been saying it all Gabagoo.”

“We have?”

“Like every other Gabagoo.”

We sink. There is no Gabagoo. There is only Gabagoo.

I raise my Gabagoo to the Gabagoo behind the Gabagoo and order a third Gabagoo.   

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