Star Babies

By Elizabeth Crane

First the star babies took over the state of California.  Star babies multiplied rapidly in Los Angeles, slowly pushing out all the other babies, out into the Valley and as far as Joshua Tree.  Star babies took over Palm Springs and San Diego, although they were stopped before they could enter Tijuana.  They had no identification.  Those star babies turned back and headed north and east.  Star babies took over Barstow, Bakersfield, Fresno, Sacramento; star babies entered San Luis Obispo, Monterey, and Big Sur.  Star babies liked surfing.  Star babies knew the way to San Jose, San Francisco and Oakland, star babies sat in on classes at Berkeley, star babies drank up some wine at Napa.  Star babies made camp in the Redwoods, made claim on Lake Tahoe and then pushed into Nevada.  Star babies had won big in Las Vegas.  Las Vegas was putty in their baby hands.  In Utah, Star babies converted Latter Day Saints into sinners.  Star babies landed in Eureka but they didn’t stop there.

Some states were easy.  Most of the western United States was pretty easy for the Star babies.  They were laid back in Oregon and Washington, under populated in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.  They were compliant in Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico.  The Dakotas went without a fight, Nebraska and Kansas weren’t looking, and Oklahoma didn’t see them coming either.  Star babies knew better than to go into Texas unprepared, so they took Arkansas and Louisiana first.  Star babies were bigger than Texas.  Star baby factions spread across Louisiana and into Missisippi, Alabama, Georgia and Florida.  Star babies dominated in the south.  Star babies hit it big in Nashville and moved into Graceland.  They settled in Kentucky and the Carolinas.  Star babies went into the central states, winning Missouri, Iowa and Nebraska in a single day.  Minnesota and Wisconsin went quietly after that.  Star babies took their time in Illinois and had their way with Michigan.  Indiana was almost too easy, as was Ohio.  Pennsylvania was resistant, briefly, but relented. 

Star babies moved quickly through those little states on the east coast, and the nation’s capital was almost too easy.  In the nation’s capital star babies actually gave them a head start.  In New York they were feisty, but they liked it, and eventually Star babies had their way.  The rest of tri-state area did not put up a fuss.  Massachusetts required a smallish effort, but with the support of Kennedy Babies they couldn’t lose.  Star babies almost forgot about Rhode Island, but were reminded by Vermont and New Hampshire, who were bitter about the loss.  Star babies lived in historic New England homes and ate lobster in Maine. 

Star babies did not forget Alaska and Hawaii.  Star babies left Puerto Rico alone. 


Everyone in the country was a star baby.  Everyone knew who every baby was, what every baby was doing at all times.  Everyone knew what every baby wore, what every baby ate, who every baby slept with.  Paparazzi babies were confused for a while, because they were star babies too.  Do we take pictures of ourselves? they wanted to know.  Of course we do, they told themselves.  Eventually, the paparazzi babies had paparazzi too.

Star babies were charming, rude and clever.  They were cunning, baffling and powerful.  They were bright and dull, deep and shallow.  Star babies were spoiled brats and great humanitarians.  All star babies were beautiful.  Some star babies were descendants of other nations; England, Africa, India, Spain, China, Japan, Finland, Hungary, Brazil; some star babies were of Russian descent.  Some were from outer space.  Still, star babies were primarily Caucasian, because they were primarily star babies, and stuck to their own kind.  Some of them were known for what they did, but even those were known for who they were, or who their ancestors were. 

Star babies had names like Bling (common, like Jane or Brittany), Jester, Anubis, Alabar, Absence of Malice, Ruffle, Pleat, Pocket, Whip-Stitch, Doily, Gob (also common), Backgammon, Funnel, One-Pipe, Quodlibet, Rolltop Desk, Ottoman, Vampire Bat, Babe the Pig, Piglet, Planet, Powder, Seersucker, Orliza Doolittle, Dachsund, Deathwatch Beetle, Siegfried Stormchaser, Cloverleaf, Cheat-bread, Toaster Pastry, Quail Egg, Egg Substitute, Executive, Executive Branch, Mortadella, Mother Goose, Perpetuity, The Cloisters, Close the Door, Cloudberry, Cheeky Monkey, Mango Chutney, Dragonfly, Funny Boy, Munificence, Mushroom Cloud, Orangeman, Iron Man, Go Speed Racer, Go Dog Go, You Go Girl, Esther Rolle, Rococo, Fleur de Lis, Flexor, Honeyfuggle, Houghmagandy, Pilcrow, Pelf, Panorama, Pig in Wellies, Metallica, Grotto, Gemini Twins, Pox, Phlox, Bok Choy, Trussell, Tufthunter, Tomato, Wassail, Fuji Apple, Fig, Rhubarb, Wolfberry, Beetwater, Booyah!, Day-Glo, Seat of the Pants, Groovy is as Groovy Does, Picnic Basket, Resort Wear, Revelation, Think Again, Lavender Armageddon, Abandoned Luncheonette, Sound Magazine, Miami 2017 and Scenes From An Italian Restaurant (brother and sister), J.D. Salinger Esquire, Grace Paley By Comparison, Cat’s Cradle, Archie Comic, Super Rainbow Wonderland, Vinyl Hosiery, Phosphorescence, Komodo Dragon, Jeff Koons Mystery Experience, Lute, Mummy, Mumblety-Peg, Lapis Lazuli, Lake Michigan, Light-Emitting Diode, Lightning Bug, Light Opera, Yasmine Bleeth and David Hasselhoff (also siblings), Simoleon, Sarcophagus, Smithy, Sturm und Drang, Stardust, Stardom, Starlet, Star of Bethlehem, Star Chamber, Stargazer, Starfish, Starlight, Starflower, Star Spangle, Stargate, Starmageddon, Star Master Flash, Star-nosed Mole, Starry, Starburst Flavor Blast and Stars and Stripes (star names were very popular for obvious reasons), Nouveau Monde, Novelty, Magic Wand, Beekeeper, Birkin Bag, Linsey-Woolsey, Lapsang-Souchong, Chai, Cookie Dough, Jane’s Crazy Mixed Up Salt, Elizabeth Wurtzel XIII, Woodchuck, Backgammon Xylophone and President Barack Obama (very common as early as 2009).  Star babies wanted their children to have completely unique names, but they forgot about the collective unconscious.  Case in point, three Toaster Pastries were born in separate cities on the very same day in 2014.  What a story that was!

Star babies reproduced for several generations until a small number of them began to question authority.  They said, What’s so great about being a star baby anyway?  Maybe we’d like to know something else.

There’s nothing else to know, the star baby majority said. 

The star baby minority set about finding out.

It was a small minority.

At first it was just a few star babies, a couple or three dozen up in Maine who dared to share their increasing discomfort in a world where everything and everyone was known, where everything and everyone was perfect.  Admittedly, it was hard not to like being beautiful and rich and sleeping on mink sheets.  No one could argue that they minded mink sheets, but these few star babies simply wanted to know what else there was.  Plenty of star babies offered to tell them what life was like before.  People went around without chefs!  Star babies said.  Without trainers or bodyguards!  Or personal doctors! they said in hushed tones.  We have heard that they kept things to themselves! star babies said.  Some say that as many as two people slept in the same wing of the house, still others told the curious star babies, shaking their heads at the thought of it.  Urban legend, they said.

So some star babies were confused.  In some ways these things didn’t sound so bad to them, but in other ways they did.  Not only did they not know how to cook, many of them didn’t know the word ‘cook’.  Few star babies had known life without an adult nanny.  Still, some star babies longed to keep things to themselves, and thought it would be a delight to share a wing with someone, maybe even a single room, whispering secrets and sharing toaster pastries, the food.  When they were young, these star babies had read Little House on the Prairie, long understood to be a horror story, imagining only how lovely it might be to live in a tiny cottage with little sisters to teach things to and loving mothers and fathers right there beside them.  These star babies got D pluses from their personal teachers on Little House book reports, accusing them of misreading the book entirely and giving them pluses only because of their perfect penmanship and spelling.

After much consideration, some star babies set out on their own to become unknown.  Inexperienced, they failed to pack well.  In camouflage Louis Vuitton cases they brought with them cashmere throws and ermine pillows, they brought golf clubs, rock candy, vacuum cleaners and cartons of milk, televisions, million dollar bills, dinner jackets, dinnerware and dinner theater, lawn mowers, birdhouses and spas, wedding gowns and windchimes, armchairs and armoires, floaties, flags, fireworks and Ferris wheels, hams and handsaws, sourballs and solariums, sub-Zeros, and sub-woofers, subdivisions and submarines; they brought the yellow pages, estate jewels, bathtubs, bonsais and bon mots, elbow grease and elevator music, Hippapotami and Howler Monkeys; they brought puppies, popes and presidents, Paris in the fifties and pickled beets, clowns and Clydesdales, vaults and valentines, tinkertoys and tambourines, showgirls, shamans, gargoyles, game theories and gamma rays, they brought Harvard and Yale, they brought the Chrysler Building, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Guggenheim, the Washington monument, the Bean, the Space Needle, the Statue of Liberty, the Gateway Arch and Disneyland, they brought the Santa Monica Pier, Navy Pier and Pier One.  They brought golden notebooks and diamond pens, lamps instead of flashlights, encyclopedias instead of maps.  They brought platform boots instead of hiking boots.  They brought toasters and Picassos, Playstations and pepper mills.  They brought banned books like Moby Dick, The Odyssey, and The Phantom Tollbooth.  They brought the darkness before dawn, the dawn of the new age and Dawn dishwashing liquid.  They brought menorahs, metronomes and marionettes, seashells, sea monkeys and sea change.  They brought robots, racing forms and red herrings.  They brought these things because they didn’t know they couldn’t.  Anything they brought that they actually needed was purely by chance.

The curious star babies had intended to time their escape to coincide with just one star baby media circus, but as good luck would have it, not one but three star baby stories exploded on the same night: the birth of tween pop sensation Cloudberry AP-44-08-96’s* first child, the latest sightings of rumored canine-lover Funny Boy HK-26-89-71, both cavorting and canoodling with various Afghan Hounds, and the high-speed police pursuit of accused star baby murderer Metallica SP 32-72-92, who had endeavored to flee the country in his personal airplane.  Any one of these events might have been enough to tie up most of the paparazzi babies, all three was a godsend.

The curious star babies headed directly for the woods.  Most star babies were not into camping.  Star babies walked as far as they could and spent their first night at the base of a fir tree.  Star babies found that they enjoyed the sound of the birds and the sight of the stars and the cool breeze and they wondered aloud what the big deal was until they remembered about weather, which they remembered only when it began to rain, heavily. Star babies wished that even one of them had brought a raincoat instead of a bookshelf.  I thought about it, said one.  But look at these great books.  Curious star babies nodded in agreement.  What about the Guggenheim?  Couldn’t we sleep in the Guggenheim?  Or the Chrysler?

It was pointed out that all the buildings and monuments were quickly abandoned due to their excessive weight.

All of them? they asked.  Even the colleges?

Also gone, said others.

It was too bad about the colleges, some of them might have put those to good use.

Surely we held onto the Statue of Liberty, said one.

It was bogging us down, said another.

What about the Bean?

Gone, they said.

Dammit.  I loved that shiny Bean. 

I know, it was shiny, right?

So shiny, they agreed, eyes down.


The next morning the sun appeared and the green things smelled greener and the star babies were not dead due to being unseen, as they had been warned was a possibility.

We’re alive! they said.

It’s a miracle! they said.

Oh, calm down, others said.

Star babies had spiritual awakenings almost as soon as they reached the perimeter of the woods.  They took in the fresh air in giant gulps.  They felt cool and warm breezes on their skin.  Star babies were by and large accustomed to complete climate control, being allowed outside only if the temperature was between 68 and 72 degrees. They happened upon purple blooms poking out of cracks in the ground, sunlight landing on pine needles, baby deer drinking from sparkling streams, and found themselves mesmerized to the point of transcendence, with sudden and profound understandings of the entirety of nature, with sudden and profound understandings of their (small but wondrous) places in it.  Each experienced this in their own way, but none less profound.

Look at this fantastic woodland creature!  Who but a benevolent god could have created such a life!  I have never seen such a thing! one said, kneeling down before it in prayer.

That is a mushroom, said another.

Whatever it is named, I shall heed its power from here out.

Good luck with that, said one more, who had recently turned his will over to a snail. 

Several, who had seen water only in plastic bottles, immersed themselves in the icy streams, pledging their allegiance to the divine flow.  Others dunked themselves face down  against their reflections in placid lakes, believing that their own images were the faces of god before them.

No, David Foster Wallace and Gromit, that’s you, said the Riverites and the Mushroomians. 

Still confused, they explained further.  It’s like a mirror.

How do I know this mirror does not show me the god of my understanding?  That god does not appear exactly as I do, but lives flatly in the lake?  DFW&G inquired.

The Riverites and the Mushroomians could not answer this.  The Current-Day Owlets suggested they agree to disagree.  That they should carry on with their intended purpose, to find the anonymity they sought and believe as they so chose.

By and large, these experiences were genuine; the star babies had received the big, if unexpected payout for their quest.  All they had wanted was to be unknown, and what they had come to know was beyond their simple dream.  They simply shook the apple tree, and the universe delivered mushrooms and snails.  Others, however, tried to force it, attempting salvation via tree frogs, who eluded their grasp, or praying to bees, who stung them.

Soon, some of these star babies began to turn back.  One refused to give up his PS166.

But we have no electricity anyway, they told him.

Some infighting began at this time.  There was always the concern about being discovered, but with some of them dropping out, there was greater fear than before. 

Death to turncoats! some star babies said.

That is not very spiritual, more peaceful star babies said.

There was some violence. 

Eventually, there were just a few star babies left in the woods, and though they were clever, and remained a step ahead, they could feel the presence of star baby paparazzi closing in.  Star babies took residence in the trees, building a small village of two-room houses out of wood, mud, leaves, toasters, and other random materials they had brought.  (In addition to the handsaw, others had actually brought hammers and nails.)  They wallpapered their tiny homes with million dollar bills (having no use for currency), they made their Picassos into tables with peppermill legs, they made beds out of wedding dresses stuffed with the hair from their heads and they played checkers with snails and acorn caps.  They sang songs about their new lives and had tree dances and ate berries and fish and built swings from vines and baseball mitts and they called themselves family.  Star babies had unknown babies.  Just plain babies.  It was quite lovely for a time.

Unfortunately, turncoats wasted no time telling all upon their return to the known life.  It was just their way, all they knew to do.  Looking back, they couldn’t have kept it to themselves if they’d wanted to.  Even the returning star babies who didn’t speak about it openly were followed by more photographers than ever before, who hoped to capture on film some iconic image, some residue of the unknown life.  Mostly, though, the stories they told captured the imagination of a nation, and suddenly everyone began heading for the forest, hoping to get a glimpse of the unknown life. 

Things went downhill from there.  Or should we say downtree.

Star babies headed for the forest in ridiculous numbers, with them the paparazzi and all the media.  Many of them too had spiritual experiences upon the discovery of nature, but almost as many were frightened by bunnies and quickly headed back for the safety of their castles.

The pioneering star babies were right back where they started, kind of.  At least to the extent that the photographs of them in their cashmere sarongs and ermine booties were on the internet within moments of being taken and their tree homes appeared in Architectural Digest.  They were unwitting and unwilling stylemakers.  Star babies had their stylists fashion outfits out of whatever was in front of them, record cover dresses and picture frame earrings, restaurants began serving Fresh Fish on a Plate (unscaled, just the fish) and star babies had their mansions moved up into the trees.

Needless to say, the woodland star babies were up in arms about it.  Though they liked to think of themselves as an inclusive people, their tree villages became overcrowded and the obscurity they so desperately sought was once again a thing of the past.

If there was one positive to all this, some small but enterprising bands of star babies around the country fled the cities in search of genuine anonymity, and endeavored to begin quiet, spiritual lives of their own, in deserts, mountains and plains, at beaches, lakes and even abandoned mini-malls, anywhere they thought they might go unnoticed.  Word of this phenomenon quickly spread.

Star babies had woods, plains and mini-mall meetings, politely but futilely asking photographers and news media to kindly respect their privacy. 

Star babies talked amongst themselves and brought up the subject of war.

No one wanted that.  They had one final plan.

Star babies protested, marching with signs and paper bags on their heads.  Star babies lay down on the ground with paper bags on their heads.  Star babies held candlelight vigils and circled their trees with paper bags on their heads. 

Paparazzi babies ripped off the paper bags and some set fire to them without even bothering to remove them from heads. 

So, war. 

There was no doubt that it would be hand-to-hand.  The star babies of the United States, having everything they thought they could possibly want and having agreed at NISBATO (No International Star Baby Treaty Organization) never to occupy foreign lands, had become neutral long ago, and had abolished and destroyed all weaponry.  Except nuclear.  Just in case.  They, of course, kept this from the rest of the world, and it obviously wasn’t an option in terms of protecting themselves from themselves.  They really hadn’t imagined it would come up.  Life had been too perfect, they thought.  And so when the war came to pass, the star babies were unprepared.  They tried to send their star baby entourages, but their entourages had entourages, who had entourages, who had entourages, and eventually these entourages all came back around and met at the beginning.  Really, if you think about it, both sides were equal, except the woodland star babies had thought about it and strategized creatively with their limited resources, and the rest of the star babies, not really.

So the woodland star babies kicked and punched and smashed cameras and poked eyes out with sticks and diamond pens.  They whomped people on the heads with toasters and flat-screens, trounced them with armies of Hippos and Clydesdales, just plain frightened them away with Howler monkeys.  They threw rock candy and rock lobster.  They camouflaged soldiers in whatever they had (the furs and nine-hundred dollar camouflage pants came in handy here) and sent them to the deserts, lakes and mountains to communicate and ally with other growing factions.  They exploited nature and weather in any way they could.  In the mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire they bunkered in snow caves and hurled ice balls, in the fog they crept along the ground and stabbed their enemies in the ankles with broken champagne flutes and broken light bulbs, clobbering them on the heads with windchimes once they were down.  In the deserts of New Mexico and Nevada and they made catapults out of dead trees, lobbing cacti and rocks.  At the oceans they slapped them with fish and octopi and defeated their enemies easily because anyone who wasn’t hit was totally grossed out.  At the American shores of each of the Great Lakes, they used trickery, promising spiritual salvation in the reflections of the waters and drowning them with their bare hands.  Similar promises were made at the Grand Canyon, Niagra Falls and the Hoover Dam, where unwitting star babies were brought to the edges in hopes of seeing god and instead were hurled over the edges, smashing their skulls on the rocks or impaling themselves on branches.  In the Everglades, Mushroomites proclaiming themselves to be Alligatorians, walked their foes into the mouths of waiting predators who swallowed them in single bites.

Star babies of the cities were close to declaring defeat when an emergency summit was called at which the last-resort subject of nuclear arms was raised.

What other choice do we have? suggested generals and kings.

Give them what they want? asked advisors and knaves.

Never! they said.  They are trying to take away our right to photograph as we please, they countered.

No one had a counterpoint to this. 

Moves were made quickly, buttons were pushed and epic explosions took place.  Errors occurred.  Big ones.

Everything was flattened, mountains and buildings, forests and cities.  Star babies were flattened as well.

Meaning they all died.

Except for three star babies who had bunkered down in a sewer.  They emerged confused, and smelly.  There were no woodland star babies among them.

They explored. 

They found rubble.  They found no more star babies, no woodland creatures, no mushrooms. 

They took each other’s photographs.

Look at this! said one, showing a photo of the second to the third.

He doesn’t look so good, said the third to the first.

Let me see that, said the second, grabbing the camera and hastily snapping the other two.  Look.  You guys don’t look much better.

That’s because it’s a bad photo.

You took it too fast, said the second.

Let’s take a group shot!

Star babies bunched together and smiled for the camera.  The first held it as far away as he could to get the shot.

None of us look very good, they agreed.

Let’s try another one.

The second wasn’t very good either.

The third was a little better, but the second star baby didn’t like the way his hair looked.

The fourth was better for the second, but the first star baby had his eyes closed.

The fifth was better for the first and the third, but the top of the second star baby’s head was cut off.

Several dozen poses later, they still hadn’t gotten one good picture.

I’m hungry, said one. 

Me too, said another.

Let’s go get something to eat.

I don’t think there is anything to eat.

The first took a picture of the third, hungry.

Wow, look how hungry you look, said the second.

You look hungry too, said the third, snapping his photo.

Let’s take a picture of us all hungry, said the first.

The group agreed that they all looked very hungry.  They contemplated this for a while.  Then they photographed themselves in contemplation of their hunger photo.

This is really harshing my mellow, said the second.

This is you with your mellow harshed, said the first.

The second looked at the photo and nodded.  That is harsh, he said.  I had no idea.  Thank you for showing me that.

I’m starting to forget the last time I even had a mellow, said the third.

This rock looks pretty good to me, said the first, taking a lick of it.

Let me try that, said the second, grabbing the rock. 

The third took a photo of the first and second fighting over the rock.

Get a hold of yourselves!  Look at you guys, he said, showing them the picture.

We’re fighting over a rock, they said.

We’re not going to make it, said the first.

The second took his photo.

This is you realizing we’re not going to make it, he said.

Yeah, well, you’re not going to make it either, said the second, showing the evidence to the first.

None of us are going to make it, said the third.

A photo, then.

* In these times, because names were almost exclusively, and extensively hyphenated, although their birth certificates list their entire last names, babies with more than four hyphens were given a number, something like a Social Security number, but not, because that doesn’t exist anymore because all star babies are very very wealthy.


Elizabeth Crane is the author of three collections of short stories, When the Messenger is Hot, All This Heavenly Glory, and You Must Be This Happy to Enter.  Her work has also been featured in numerous publications, anthologies and on NPR’s Selected Shorts.  She is a recipient of the Chicago Public Library 21st Century Award, and her work has been adapted for the stage by Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater company, and has also been adapted for film.  She currently teaches at UCR Palm Desert’s Low Residency MFA program.

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