My Old Kentucky Homesite

Archive for November, 2009

Fa La La La La, Pa Rum Pa Pum Pum

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 11/28/2009

Yesterday, I did what I do every year on the day after Thanksgiving. I scoured the Internet for Christmas songs, the weirder the better. Over the years, I’ve amassed dozens of  jazz interpretations, latino renditions, r&b versions, rock adaptations, pop readings, and even the occasional variation in country style. (I’m talking, of course, about the countries of Norway and Rumania.) My stockpile also includes plenty of novelty tunes and new won’t-be standards.  I love Christmas songs.

But I hate having the same twenty of them rammed down my throat while I’m shopping. “Do you hear what I hear?” Yes, please shut it off. When the chipmunks croon, the only thing I want to dig into my pockets for is rodent poison. I’ve got big news for the people running the country’s malls: In my entire life, Johnny Mathis has never talked me into buying anything.

And why does store Christmas come in only two musical colors, Presley blue and Crosby white? Aren’t blue and white more appropriate for Chanukah? What about some other colors for the holiday once in a while? How about it, Bing?

May your days be merry and stellar,
And may all your Christmases be yeller.

Why not complain in a different shade, Elvis?

You can follow that star, enj-
Oy Christmas of orange,
But I’ll have a mauve, mauve Christmas.

I get tired of the same ol’ Bing and Elvis, Johnny Mathis and chipmunks every year. How many times can Grandma get run over by a reindeer before we wish that she’d just lie there for good?  Just once, I’d like to hear that Burl Ives and his holly, jolly got run over by a trolley.

I keep hoping each year that I’ll walk into a store and hear something new and different. But that never happens. Which is why I began buying Christmas songs, years ago at $7.99 for a sale-bin album, now at 99 cents per iTunes ditty.

Most of the numbers in my musical library are not played in national chains. You won’t hear, for instance, “Don’t Give Me No Goose for Christmas” by the Korn Kobblers or “Santa Lost a Ho” by the Christmas Jug Band. I’d be very surprised if Target or Walmart piped in “Christmas Is Coming Twice This Year” (“once with Mom and then again with Dad”) by the Hollytones, “St. Stephen’s Day Murders” by Elvis Costello and the Chieftains, or “Santa Claus Is Freaking Me Out” by Lord Weatherby. If you visit the restroom during your spree, you won’t find Dr. John (“Toyland”), or Elton John (“Who’d Be a Turkey at Christmas?”), or Peas (“Angels We Have Heard on High”). Even some of the seasonal oeuvre of the most popular Yuletide artists is ignored by vendors: Where’s Nat King Cole’s “I’m the Happiest Christmas Tree,” Duke Ellington’s “Arabesque Cookie,” and Frank Sinatra’s “There’s a Flaw in My Flue”?

I refuse to go dashing through my dough in stores that don’t offer the best cuts of “Jingle Bells,” like the ones by Lena Horne, Bela Fleck, Fats Waller, and the Puppini Sisters. I laugh at Gene Autry’s “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and call it names; it doesn’t compare to the terrific recordings by Pony Poindexter, Billy May, Jesse Colin Young, or the Gypsy Hombres. No salesclerk ever says, “Shall I play for you?” the “Little Drummer Boy” of the Ray Brown Trio or Cassandra Wilson, of Ringo Starr or Brave Combo.

My intention here – and I think it’s nice, not naughty – is merely to whet your appetite for all the great holiday music you’ve been missing underneath the mistletoe.  Maybe you’ll hitch up your sleigh, and go for a ride (with Bootsy Collins, the Ronettes, or Jane Monheit) to find some of these underappreciated treats. But before you traverse afar, I’ll mention just six more great pieces that make me smile, whether I have my front teeth in or not: (1) “Deck Us All With Boston Charlie” by Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross, (2) “Mr. Heatmiser” by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, (3) “Mamacita Donde Esta Santa Claus?” by Charo and the Salsoul Orchestra, (4) “Christmas in Killarney” by Linda Rutherford and Celtic Fire, (5) “Winter Wonderland” by Jason Mraz, and (6) “Feels Like Christmas” by Cyndi Lauper.

If any of my readers owns a retail establishment, please take the hint.

Posted in Christmas, Music | 4 Comments »

Sorry, but Nothing Rhymes with “Cranberry Sauce”

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 11/24/2009

My wife and I are in a mixed marriage: She’s a baked potato person; I’m mashed all the way. Although neither of us is a Crispian, we do have some friends who are. So a few years ago, I decided we needed to find a Thanksgiving song that, while favoring no particular peelological system, still acknowledged the greater glory of Spud.

However, after hours of research, I couldn’t come up with a single holiday tune that included root vegetables at all. Or any other type of food, for that matter! What gives? The fourth Thursday in November is not just some non-pecktarian celebration. It’s a time specifically set aside for us to fill our plates to the brim with tasty vittles of all kinds. We need to put the tang back in Thanksgiving.

So I borrowed an old ditty, and changed the words ever so slightly, making sure to mention potatoes in passing. (And please, while you’re at it, pass the gravy, too.) I now gladly share this with all my readers, in hopes that it will help them better understand the true meaning of this week’s festivities. Sing along, why don’t you?

We gather together to ask for more dressing,
Potatoes, tomatoes, and turkey piled high,
And plenty of vino.
Let’s end with cappuccino.*
Sing praises to the cook,
Who forgets not the pie.

*Feel free, if you must, to replace this line with: “Then pass around the Beano.

Posted in Food and Drink, Holidays, Music | 5 Comments »

Whose Famous What?!

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 11/21/2009

OK, all you New Yawkers take a deep breath, because you won’t believe this.

So I was driving in Lexington today, and I passed a restaurant called Detroit’s Famous Coney Island. I was not tempted to stop and try it, though, because I’ve eaten quite a number of times at Coney Island itself, and I can’t see any reason that someone other than a gastroenterologist would want to import that experience.

I might have considered sampling a restaurant called Coney Island’s Famous Detroit, but what would they serve there? Cars in buns? How about Lexington’s Famous Coney Island? Obviously: Horsemeat and kraut.

By Googling, I found out that hot dogs in Michigan are frequently referred to as “coney dogs.” They’re usually served with a meat-laden sauce, which to me seems like gilding the piccalilli. Further research revealed that the custom has not spread across the border to Ontario, so what’s sauce for the Canada Goose is not necessarily sauce for the Michigander, and vice versa.

By extension from “coney dog,” the term “coney island” is any Michigan greasy-spoon joint specializing in franks, burgers, french fries, onion rings, maybe fried fish, and other assorted Prilosec-friendly foods. I found Web sites for George’s Famous Coney Island, Johnny’s Famous Coney Island, and Angelo’s Famous Coney Island, as well as the American Coney Island, which, actually being famous, doesn’t need to include that word in its title. The American’s Internet page lists the names of about twenty celebrities who have eaten there, a fact that would have been more impressive if I had heard of at least ten of them. I’m guessing that the unfamiliar folks are probably sports stars or local politicians. Maybe both.

In any case, to return to Kentucky: I’m going to keep my eyes open for other Lexington restaurants with either “New York” or one of its venues in their names. In my last post, I mentioned Stanley J’s New York Style Deli (the name of which, because of the word “style,” is commendably honest), but there’s also Giacomo’s New York Delicatessen and the Brooklyn Sports Grill & Pizzria (that’s not a typo). I’ll now be on the lookout for eateries with other boroughs or New York City landmarks in their titles, but a quick peek through the phone book portends that I’ll have no luck. We do have a street named Broadway here, so that word wouldn’t count, even if there were a restaurant that used it, which there isn’t.

Of course, not to be too one-sided, I feel compelled to point out that there’s the Lexington Candy Shop in Manhattan, statues of jockeys in front of the 21 Club, and nearly fifty restaurants throughout the city that are called “Kentucky Fried Chicken.”

Posted in Food and Drink, New to Kentucky, Once a New Yorker ... | 7 Comments »

Nice Food

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 11/20/2009

Today, I found a sandwich shop in Lexington that serves authentic chopped liver, very like the kind I used to wish my grandmother made when I was growing up in the Bronx. My friends’ grandmothers made terrific chopped liver, loaded with plenty of onions and chicken fat and even gribenes, which are kind of like fried pork rinds except without the pork.

But Nanny’s version of chopped liver was mostly Crisco. In fact, everything Nanny made was mostly Crisco. She just shaped it differently for matzo balls, for potato pancakes, for noodle kugel. When I crossed the street to visit her for lunch, I didn’t always know exactly what ingredients would be in the food she prepared. But I did know that whatever it was, I’d be belching it up for a week.

“Why aren’t you eating that? It’s nice food. Whatsa matter, you don’t like chopped liver all of a sudden? Who doesn’t like chopped liver? Are you crazy, or what?”

“It’s mostly Crisco.”

“Very funny. Remind me to laugh later, when I loosen my girdle so I don’t hurt my sides. Whattaya talking? There’s plenty of liver there. Show me where there’s not liver. And since when did you become a food critic at seven years old?”

“I just don’t like the way it tastes.”

“What’s to taste? It’s chopped liver. How do you think it’s supposed to taste, like a Hershey bar? It’s nice.”

I always wondered: How could food be nice? It could be delicious or disgusting; it could even be beautiful or bad-looking. But nice? Food has no personality.

“You always liked my cooking. Didn’t you always like my cooking? You always liked my cooking. And you know why? Because what I serve you is much nicer than a fancy restaurant. Maybe you don’t get a cloth napkin with other people’s shmutz all over it, but by my house, you eat good. So go criticize a cafeteria and write it up in the newspaper and I’ll buy a copy and frame it over the couch. In the meantime, eat!”

I’d push my food around the plate until I was able to fool myself into thinking that it looked as if I’d consumed most of it.

“What are you, a sculptor? Eat. You need some crackers? Here, put your liver on crackers. They’ll help the poison go down, and we can both die happy.”

“I don’t like those crackers. They’re too salty.”

“That’s why they call them Saltines. What should they be, peppery? Let me see if I have some Pepperines. Or maybe you want some Chocolatechips-ines? If they made those, I’d give them to you, believe me. But all they make is Saltines, because that’s what normal people like.”

For dessert, we’d always have Jell-O. Nanny kept bowls of it pre-made in her refrigerator, lying in ambush for me. She bought boxes and boxes of whatever kind was on sale, as long as it was in the berry group. Strawberry. Raspberry. Cherry. Black Cherry. Black Raspberry. We never had orange or lemon – they were abominations. Lime, in particular, was “way too goyish; Jews don’t care for it.” No explanation given. Maybe she’d read somewhere that Hitler liked it.

“I’ve got a surprise for dessert. Guess what it is. I bet you can’t. Should I tell you?”

“Jell-O, right? What flavor?”

“Red.”

“They’re all red. Can’t you tell me what flavor it is?”

“What’s the difference? It’s red. Strawberry, raspberry, something like that. You always love Jell-O, so whattaya hockin’ me with flavors? It’s nice.”

“Why don’t we ever have lime?”

“I don’t like lime. You like lime? You don’t like lime. Whoever heard of chopped liver and then lime Jell-O? Tell me: how does that go together? Lime is goyish.”

“How can a flavor be a religion?”

“Listen, smart guy. If you can’t figure it out, don’t ask. Believe me, lime is plenty goyish, and on top of that, it’s gassy. They should cook it with a Tum mixed in. So don’t noodj me about lime. You want the Jell-O, it’s in the Frigidaire. You don’t want the Jell-O, leave it. Who cares, goyish or not? I buy red. It wouldn’t kill you to have a little Jell-O, but do what you want. I’m only your grandmother, so what do I know?”

I always took a bowl of the stuff. Because even though I wouldn’t give Nanny the satisfaction of telling her, I secretly loved Jell-O. I still do. In fact, the next time I stop into Stanley J’s Deli for a nice sandwich, I’ll have to see if they carry my favorite flavor: red. It goes great with chopped liver.

Posted in Food and Drink, Memoirs, Nanny, New to Kentucky, The Oys of Yiddish | 8 Comments »

It’s Never Cloudy in Kentucky?

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 11/17/2009

In 1853, a New Yawk sheet music company published a song called “Poor Uncle Tom, Good Night!” by Stephen Foster. The first line of that song was:

The sun shines bright in the old Kentucky home.

Whether or not Foster had actually seen a Kentucky home, old or new, is disputed, but the song was a hit. It was the “Thriller” of its day, minus the zombie outfits.

The sun shines bright in the old Kentucky home,
‘Tis summer, the darkies are gay;
The corn-top’s ripe and the meadow’s in the bloom,
While the birds make music all the day.

Seventy-five years later, (in 1928, for those whose arithmetic is shaky), the Kentucky legislature adopted Foster’s work as the official state song. The first line was transformed, not officially, but by most singers, to:

The sun shines bright in my old Kentucky home.

Suddenly, the place was no longer some vague edifice; it was the singer’s very own house. He or she might even try to buttonhole you, grabbing your attention at the very beginning:

Oh, the sun shines bright in my old Kentucky home.

That’s the way I always heard it. Until I moved to Kentucky, I hadn’t really thought much about that song. What I didn’t know was that in 1986, the Kentucky legislature voted to remove the offensive word in the second line, changing the lyric slightly to:

‘Tis summer, the people are gay.

Fair enough. That worked for about twenty years. But recently, the song has run up against the legislature once again. The social conservatives, not wishing – even indirectly – to appear as if they support marriage between homosexuals, are urging another change to the problematic phrase. They want it to read:

‘Tis summer, the people are cheerful.

Well, that ruins the rhyme scheme and scansion of the verse, doesn’t it? So the further suggestion has been made to change the last line to:

While the birds make music all the yearful.

However, a science professor at the University of Kentucky has pointed out that (a) the year has other seasons besides summer, and (b) in most avian species, only male birds sing. As a result of these observations, a group of academics at U.K. is lobbying to change the second line to:

All seasons, the people are cheerful.

And the last line to:

While male birds make music all the yearful.

This, as you can imagine, does not sit well with everyone. Some people think that all birds – males, females, and transsexuals – should get equal time in the state song. So, given that Nature has not seen fit to make all creatures equal in their music-making capabilities, the egalitarians insist that the fourth line should be:

While birds of every gender make merry all the yearful.

That should be an end to the controversy, but a consortium of allergists is concerned about the third line. The doctors point out that many Kentuckians have sensitivities to either corn, or meadows, or both. It doesn’t seem right, the allergists say, not to warn citizens about possible dire consequences of cavorting around near potentially hazardous plants. So the allergists have posited the following third line:

You may need to take Claritin if the meadow’s in the bloom.

OK. That would seem to be that … if the song had just one verse. But unfortunately, it doesn’t, and the second verse is dynamite! A number of evangelicals are up in arms over its first line, which they claim encourages sinful behavior in teenagers:

The young folks roll on the little cabin floor.

As soon as the preachers come up with an alternative, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, I hope you’ll excuse me if I just whistle “I’ll Take Manhattan.”

Posted in Music, New to Kentucky, Once a New Yorker ... | 6 Comments »

SEO Strategy: Come and Get It, Web Crawlers!

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 11/13/2009

I was outraged when Congress mandated earlier today that every American, including unborn fetuses, must maintain a Web presence of some kind. I’ll admit that I felt a little better when the Twitter Opt-Out Amendment was narrowly passed, because I didn’t see any way that I’d be able to confine my communications to 140 characters or less. At my age, I need more than that just to pass gas.

Fortunately, I already have this blog, so I needn’t do anything further to comply – except continue to post. I am excited about the Drivel Mileage Tax Exemption, though. If I can produce enough extra trivial chatter to print out pages (using Arial 12 only, as stated in IRS Publication AR12.03WTF) that will cover the distance between my house and the nearest troubled bank, I’ll be eligible for a deduction equal to the number of hours I spend monitoring my blog, divided by the number of nano-seconds I actually take to compose my posts, multiplied by the average number of hits I receive per hour. Since the Google spider-bots have yet to find my site, the mean number of my visits is, regrettably, somewhere in the low hundredths, which means I’ll earn about a nickel off my taxes.

So, please excuse me, but I’m taking steps to attract those little ethereal critters by mentioning Michael Jackson (still alive!), Taylor Swift (older than she says!), Sarah Palin (nude!), and Cookie Lavagetto (for all old-time Brooklyn Dodgers fans who happen to be Web-surfing despite their gerontologists’ orders).

Anyway, here’s the list again, in Arial 12 Boldface.
Michael Jackson: Still Alive!!
Taylor Swift: Older than she Says!!
Sarah Palin: Nude!!!!
Cookie Lavagetto (Honk If You’ve Heard of Him)

OK, I lied about the font. But I was able to say all that in a mere 1,680 characters, or, as the kids call it, exactly twelve Tweets. Twuly!

Posted in Google | 4 Comments »

Well, At Least I Know It’s Not Superman

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 11/11/2009

In an attempt to feel at home in Lexington, my wife and I have put up a bird feeder in our backyard.

In my New Yawk days, I knew only two birds: pigeons and not-pigeons. They were very easy to tell apart. If I saw it, it was a pigeon.

But living in Florida, I became somewhat of a birder. I learned how to distinguish the larger raptors from airplanes; in time, I could tell a hawk from a handsaw. (Tip: you can’t cut anything with a hawk.) If I saw a large wading bird, I knew it wasn’t likely to be a penguin, and if I saw a small skittish creature flying from a treebranch to catch bugs, I realized it probably wasn’t an ostrich – they’re not skittish.  I could even recognize some species by their songs. (Tip: If they’re warbling Elvis, they’re the next-door neighbor’s radio.)

At our feeder in the Sunburn State, we had painted buntings that visited throughout the winter, and I learned to spot them because no other bird has a blue head, green-and-brown wings, and a red underbody and rump. In fact, I learned that bird’s have rumps, not asses. They also have claws, not fingernails; beaks or bills, not noses; and crowns or crests, not hairdos.

Eventually, I actually got pretty good at identifying the most common Florida species. Where I lived, on the edge of a thicket, it wasn’t uncommon to see fourteen or fifteen species in, around, or over my yard every day. During migration season, that number could double, or even triple. I began to keep lists.

Tuesday. Saw blue-green gnatcatcher snatch a bug near lantana, common yellowthroat flyng around aimlessly through oleander, and a  waterthrush walking on the lawn, pretty good view of markings. (Northern? Louisiana? Describe to David, and ask  which is more probable.) Heard great-crested flycatcher, high in an oak. Also heard white-eyed vireo, and brown thrasher, but didn’t see. At noon, swallow-tailed kite flying overhead. Flash of orange entering thicket – too quick to get a good look – orchard or Baltimore? Not a single pigeon, though.

Question: What if birds logged information on the people they see?

Tuesday. Saw cop snatch donut near the Krispy Kreme, common children running around aimlessly in playground, and a blonde watering lawn, pretty good view of cleavage. (Married? Single? Describe to David, and ask which is more probable.) Heard biker revving up motorcycle, high in his driveway. Also heard lawyer arguing on cell phone, and Elvis on the radio, but didn’t see. At noon, kids flying kite overhead. Flash of orange entering hair salon  – too quick to get a good look – natural or dye-job? Where are all these damn pigeons coming from?

If birds wrote lists, I wonder if they’d mention our new avian restaurant here in Lexington. We don’t have the variety of customers that we had in Florida, but we have been feeding house sparrows (literally dozens), titmice, chickadees, and house finches. At least one downy woodpecker has found our suet cake. Goldfinches dine at the nyjer sock.

So my wife and I are slowly getting adjusted to life in Kentucky. The birds, if no others, seem to appreciate our arrival. Maybe one of the chickadees will compare notes with me.

Posted in New to Kentucky, Watching Birds | 4 Comments »

Maybe I Should Rent “Turn Left at the End of the World”

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 11/09/2009

Today, two things happened that now make me realize I’m a full-fledged, albeit new, Kentuckian.

First of all, I now hold a Kentucky driver’s license. But I hope that doesn’t make me a Kentucky driver, since everyone on the road – at least here in Lexington – seems crazed. New Yawk cab drivers, who often travel as if they’re trying to simulate Disney’s Space Mountain, are novices compared to the people who careen up and down the streets of my new town. Apparently, you lose your right to drive if you let someone merge into your lane. And forget about making a left turn; you can’t do it. Instead, you might imagine a rectangle, and make three rights along its perimeter so you can head straight across the road you were just driving on. At least, that’s what you’d do in New Yawk City, which is laid out in a sensible grid, with ninety-degree angles. Unfortunately, Lexington is not laid out that way; it’s more like a bicycle wheel, with all of its spokes heading outward toward the appropriately named New Circle Road. So making a right and a right and a right may take you into the next county. Or back where you started from. Or into a different dimension of  space and time. The only thing that’s for sure is: You will not be pointing in the direction you want to go.

Once you do manage to enter the big ring, however, woe betide you if you happen to find yourself heading clockwise instead of counter-clockwise, or vice versa. You become like Charlie on the MTA, doomed to ride forever. Because you won’t be able to make a left until 1 a.m., when most Kentucky drivers are finally home in bed.

Lexington is the heart of the Bluegrass Region; it’s horse country. Perhaps that’s why so many of its residents drive like jockeys. This afternoon, for instance, I pulled out from a parking place at a bookstore, dutifully and slowly followed my aisle down toward the stop sign, and was suddenly cut off by an elderly woman who was zooming diagonally through the parking lot at about 95 miles an hour. Although there were dozens of spaces to choose from, she must have had her eye on a particularly choice spot as the finish line (although its specific value was unclear). In any case, she did everything but whip her car’s flanks to get there.

I can only suppose that the woman must have been in such a hurry because she was eager to get out of her vehicle and celebrate. She must have been relieved at finding her way somewhere. Anywhere, actually. Here in Lexington, you have to be a mind-reader to know how to get where you’re going, because street names change magically, for no apparent reason. Some of the major roads have two or three names, or even more. For example, Athens-Boonesboro Road becomes Richmond Road which transforms to Main Street before it transmogrifies into Leestown Road.  If you’re a newcomer to town, people who give you directions routinely forget to mention that a street they’ve sent you to may not exist in the immediate vicinity. “Take a right onto Harrodsburg and drive until you come to Red Mile. Make a right, and then a few blocks down, turn left onto Nicholasville.” Translation: “Broadway to Virginia to Limestone.” From Limestone/Nicholasville, you can drive straight until you come to Athens-Boonesboro/Richmond/Main/Leestown, whatever it happens to be called in that precise location – unless, of course, there’s a detour because of construction. Which, in my experience, there  always is.

The second thing that happened to make me feel at home was this: my wife and I finally found the box, from among hundreds still unpacked, that contained our DVD player. It took us so long to find because it was marked “Baskets, Ladles, Shells.” Now we realize that somewhere in our many piles is a box that contains baskets, ladles, and shells, so it must be the one marked “Bookends, Batteries, Unmatched Socks.”

Anyway, as I carefully plugged red to red, yellow to yellow, and white to white, I realized that I was about to start rebuilding my Netflix life. To help me adjust to my new surroundings, I immediately visited my online queue and added The Kentuckian, Kentucky Fried Movie and They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

Well, I’ve just noticed that the remote control needs batteries. I haven’t yet found the appropriate box (I’m guessing it’ll be the one that says “Bird Guides, Unpaid Bills, Hitchcock Flicks”), so I’ll drive to the nearest store to get Energized. It’s just a few blocks away, so it ought to be just a three-, maybe four-minute ride from my house. Although here in Lexington, it could take me several hours. Because to get there, I’ll have to make a left.

Posted in Driving in Lexington, New to Kentucky | 4 Comments »

The Rake’s Lack of Progress

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 11/07/2009

For weeks, my wife and I have been tracking botanical detritus into our house. Wherever we walk, there’s a crunch, crunch, crunch underfoot. It’s not an unpleasant sound, in and of itself, but I find myself always checking to make sure I haven’t stepped on some unusually crispy bug – or the cat.

So today, for the first time in my life, I began raking a front yard full of leaves. Growing up in New Yawk, I never had to do that. Magical powers (namely, the super) always made sure to keep the sidewalk in front of the building footloose and leaf-free. During my exile in Florida, no one had to rake because, as I’ve told you, there’s no Fall there. The few leaves that do drift down to the ground can be picked up by hand, or left for dead to become mulch. Actually, in Florida, everything becomes mulch if you leave it around in the sun long enough.

My understanding of raking comes from three sources: (1) paintings by the Great Masters, in which the rakers are young women, seemingly happy, communing with Nature as they gather the hay; (2) 50s sitcoms, in which kids had to do their chores – outdoors!; and (3) one of the great all-time sappy songs, “The Autumn Leaves,” particularly the instrumental rendition by Roger Williams, in which you can actually hear the leaves pianistically drifting by the window. Nobody – not Van Gogh, not Opie, and certainly not Roger Williams – ever complained about the crackling noise as they walked from the foyer to the bathroom.

Anyway, here in Kentucky, it seems as if every leaf in the universe has found its way to my house. Most of them are not red and gold, as the song would have it; they’re just kind of a crinkly dead-looking brownish yellow. They certainly don’t remind me of summer kisses, because I’ve never dated a zombie in any season.

But I figured: Hey, if that young Winslow Homer girl can do it, and if that all-time screw-up, the Beave, can do it, I ought to find it pretty easy.

Ha. I guess Bruegel’s women and Nat King Cole didn’t have allergies. Bud Anderson couldn’t beg off raking because it would make him sneeze; his father knew better. In fact, in my entire leaf experience, I never heard of anyone getting a runny nose while he or she raked around the house. Perhaps Edith Piaf sniffled a little when she sang “les feuilles mortes,” but I can’t tell for sure because I don’t know the French word for “ah-choo.” (I’m guessing that there is no French word for such a bourgeois expression. After all, it has nothing to do with cheese.)

Today is a pretty nice Fall day, comfortably cool, but I actually worked up a sweat. In about three minutes. The perspiration dripping into my already itchy eyes, combined with my sneezing and a developing blister on my left thumb, did not make for a happy me. Suddenly, I knew why Brueghel, Rubens, Van Gogh, and Winslow Homer depicted females doing the raking; they, themselves, didn’t want the job. I’m not saying that they felt such a chore was beneath them – although where else would the leaves be? I’m just pointing out that they probably used their artistic ability as an excuse: “Look, you ladies rake, and I’ll paint a beautiful sofa-sized picture. OK?”

My wife – Kentucky native that she is – is an old hand at raking. She was too smart to fall for that artist baloney, maybe because I’ve never painted a picture in my life. But she did give me some advice: “You’re holding the rake backwards. Don’t push the leaves with it; pull them. Gather them into piles. It’s a waste of time stopping to shape the piles into perfect pyramids. Don’t forget to go under the bushes and all around the plants. And check behind your ears, while you’re at it. Try not to break the rake on the stone walkway in the garden. Or under your foot. Why don’t you have any Kleenex with you? Am I gonna have to get you a surgical mask, for crying out loud?”

When there are sufficient piles all over the yard, I’m supposed to rake them down to the curb, where the city promises to do something with them. I’m hoping that the town of Lexington is going to collect all those dead leaves and mail them to Roger Williams.

Posted in New to Kentucky, Once a New Yorker ..., Unpleasant Jobs | Leave a Comment »

The Revenge of Johnny Kucks

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 11/05/2009

I probably have ADD, although when it comes to staying on-task, I think of it more as “SUBTRACT.” In any case, even though I haven’t written it yet, I’m already bored with the story of how I happened to move to Kentucky. For three or four months before the fact, I’d been telling it to everyone I know. Repeatedly. So they’re sick and tired of it, too. Yeah, I promised I’d “explain how I happened to make the big move,” but the tale seems like a yawner. Suffice it to say that my wife got a great job here in Lexington, and – since my cat and I are both capable of doing whatever it is we do regardless of where we live – we tagged along. I can’t speak for Woody, but I hated my thirteen-hour drive trapped in that little box. Who can stay entertained for so long with nothing but a fuzzy mouse?

What I want to talk about today is spectator sports. I hate ‘em. That’s because I don’t see how my life is affected at all by whether my home team wins or loses – unless I happen to have a bet going. If I want to brag about something, I kind of feel like it should involve my own accomplishments, rather than those of some guys I don’t know and probably wouldn’t be pals with even if I did. It’s hard for me to imagine sitting down with a person wearing a number on his back, and having a discussion about Dickens, or Darwin, or Miles Davis’s fusion period, or 50s TV cereal commercials, or who’s funnier: Woody Allen or Mel Brooks, or which wines go least badly with Chinese food, or is it really possible for any news organization to be fair and unbiased, or … oh, any of a thousand other subjects that interest me. (In fact, I can think of only three subjects that don’t interest me: (1) sports, (2) Bob Dylan’s musical oeuvre, and (3) whether or not I should eat more fiber.)

Given my normal attitude about spectator sports, I was surprised to find that, deep down, I actually gave a rat’s ass about whether or not the Yankees won the World Series. I didn’t follow the team all year, and, in fact, I haven’t followed them since 1961, when I was twelve, and Mantle and Maris were trying to break Ruth’s record.  Even then, I didn’t much care whether or not the team won; I just liked the freedom of going to the ballpark “alone.” “Alone,” by the way, means: in a group of at least fifteen other rowdy twelve-year-old boys, without any evident parental supervision, although sometimes a stray dad would sneak into the pack.

On a game-going day, I’d grab my unused baseball glove (just in case a ball was hit directly into it, because there was no other way I would ever catch anything), join a gang of similarly accoutered friends, ride the bus up the Bronx’s Grand Concourse for about an hour to Yankee Stadium, pay my half a buck, and head for the bleachers, which were the hottest, most uncomfortable location in the world. Then I’d spend three or four hours eating ballpark hotdogs oozing with yellow mustard, drinking Yogi Berra’s Yoo-Hoo (which my mother made me take with me from home, in a thermos), and yelling whenever and whatever I pleased, even if a dad was around.  Some of us gambled for baseball cards between innings, but nobody ever wanted mine, because I carried only a few that I’d inherited from an older cousin. I had no current Mickey Mantles or Roger Marises, or even Moose Skowrons and Clete Boyers; my cards were a couple of years old and had players like Eli Grba (you read that right), Jerry Lumpe (pronounced “Lumpy”), and Johnny Kucks (feel free to provide your own junior-high-mentality joke).  During the action, I kept the most anally perfect scorecard I could, because it was clear to me that my scrawl would be the only permanent record of the game – even though I could never remember if the outfielder positions were counted 7 to 9 from right to left or left to right, and, hey, which side is right field, again? FYI: Mickey Mantle, whose uniform number was 7 but whose position number was 8, did not hit 61, but Roger Maris, whose uniform number was 9, and who, as right fielder, was in position number 7 or 9, did. But with an asterisk.

Anyway, before the playoffs began this year, I couldn’t have named more than four or five current Yankee players, mostly the ones, like Jeter and A-Rod, who had been in the news for sleeping with famous women. I’d never heard of anyone named Melky or Joba, and although I’ve known some people called “Swisher” (back when I still had that junior-high mentality), it was not a name I usually associated with baseball.

But there I was, sitting on my couch in Lexington, Kentucky, rooting through all the play-offs and the World Series for the Yankees. I yelled at the television whenever an umpire made a bad call against “us,” and high-fived the air when “we” scored runs or turned a neat double-play. Every four or five minutes, my wife would come into the living-room and ask, “Is that stupid thing over yet?” And then, “When did you all of sudden become a baseball fan? What’s next? Am I gonna hear you singing ‘Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands’ (Please, not the whole thing!). Or wondering what you can take to fight irregularity?”

Not likely. (I’m nothing if not regular.) I’m certain that my fleeting obsession with the Bronx Bombers has a lot to do with my move from New York City (via Florida) to Kentucky. But I also fear that there’s something more pathetic, maybe even sinister, involved: a yearning for lost youth.

Posted in New to Kentucky, Once a New Yorker ..., Yankee Baseball | 4 Comments »