Sunday, June 15, 2008

A Father's Day remembrance, continued.

My brother called and we got to talking about my dad. He reminded me of some things I had forgotten about.

My father worked in the Philadelphia General Post Office as a clerk. What he really wanted to do was be a songwriter. In 1957, just before I was born, Woody and the Termites recorded his song, “Two Peanuts” (a riff on the Be-Bop standard “Salt Peanuts”). Fourteen weeks after its release, “Two Peanuts” had climbed to the top of the charts. Woody and the Termites were a one-hit wonder and my father and mother had $1500 in cash and enough encouragement to move from row-house Philadelphia to suburban development New York where my father was to pursue his songwriting.

In 1957, if you were an ex-GI, you could buy a house in Yonkers for $1000 down. But you couldn’t buy much of one. The house my parents bought had been built by an itinerate housebuilder with no particular skill or even understanding of geometry. The house was on a hill, but it wasn’t built into the hill. It was built alongside the hill. In other words, the house was built on a tilt.

That was the house I was born into. When I learned to crawl, I first learned to go downhill, then I learned to crawl uphill. Same when I learned to walk. My point is, I grew up on a tilt. Flat and level were the anomaly. Tilt was normal.
My father’s songwriting career did not go well. He (and Woody and the Termites) followed up “Two Peanuts” with “Two Peanuts Times Two”. The song was a moderate success, breaking into the top one-hundred, but before long it became clear that my father was no Lieber and no Stoller.

Needing money, and having had a glimmer of notoriety, my father became a jingle writer for advertising industry. He sold ditties that had the word “sauce” rhyme with “of course”. He sold songs sung by singing cigarettes. And jingles belted out by animated lima beans. However, regardless of how many of these songs he sold, he never seemed to amass enough money to move from our little tilted house.

That was OK by me though, because it was all the house I had ever known. In fact, I was pretty sure that our house was the way houses were meant to be.

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