A horse is a horse (of course)

I just took on an assignment to write a podcast script, geared toward children in fourth-grade, on the topic of “Famous Horses and Dogs.”

When it comes to dogs, I’m thinking about FDR’s famous pooch Fala, Rin Tin Tin, Snoopy, Lassie, the Hound of the Baskervilles and Superman’s dog, Krypto. Wait, I forgot Huckleberry Hound and Deputy Dawg!

Deputy Dawg
Deputy Dawg
Huckleberry Hound
Huckleberry Hound

For horses, so far I’ve thought of Gen. Robert E. Lee’s famous steed Traveler, Fury, Trigger, Black Beauty, Secretariat, Seabiscuit, Pegasus and — of course, of course — Mister Ed!

I think Mister Ed had to be just about the most amazing horse ever. Yes, some of these other horses did stuff like winning the Kentucky Derby or galloping into battle, but how many of those other horses could talk? And, yes, I remember that Supergirl owned Comet the Super-Horse. Don’t believe me? Here’s visual proof:

Supergirl rides Comet the Super-Horse as her cousin Superman looks on.
Supergirl rides Comet the Super-Horse as her cousin Superman looks on.

But none of these horses or dogs had Mister Ed’s winning personality. And none of them could sing. Here’s Mister Ed singing “Empty Feed Bag Blues” —

‘She looks TERRIBLE in that gown!’

I used to be intelligent, maybe even an intellectual. For example, I read James Joyce’s “Finnegan’s Wake” while still in college. And I’ve been to several off-Broadway plays.

But now I spend my Friday evenings sitting in front of a television screen watching a program called “Say ‘Yes’ to the Dress.”

The premise: Young brides-to-be visit bridal-gown shops, one in New York City and one, for some reason, in Atlanta. They bring with them an entourage — best friends, members of the wedding party, mothers, future mothers-in-law, and even the occasional overprotective and prudish father, including one guy who kept saying that a gown his daughter had tried on was “showing too much of her skin.”

Assisted by store staff, the young women try on different dresses, then model them for friends and family who offers their comments and critiques — and catty remarks, insults and even the occasional threat.

And I happily join in:
“She looks awful in that dress!”
“I can’t believe she’s leaning toward the dress with all of those sequins!”
“Is she getting married or going to a costume party?”
“The ‘mermaid’ look just isn’t her. What the hell is she thinking?”

My companion looks at me, wonders whether she’s ruined me forever, then laughs and offers some comment of her own about the overbearing mother or the too-bubbly bride or the members of the bride’s entourage, who often closely resemble a school of barracudas.

I used to watch nothing on TV except PBS and baseball games. Now I watch “Say ‘Yes’ to the Dress.”

Maybe this either proves or disproves the theory of evolution. Maybe it just says something about the simple pleasure of sitting together and laughing about the latest episode of the human comedy. Maybe I should confess that I’ve also gotten into watching “Something Borrowed, Something New,” in which brides-to-be have to choose between wearing the wedding gown of their dreams – or wearing their mother’s or grandmother’s original wedding gown, altered and updated and tailored to fit a modern bride.

Or maybe I’ll re-read “Finnegan’s Wake” – while watching the next season of “Say ‘Yes’ to the Dress.”

Huckleberry friend

News of the death of Andy Williams made me think immediately of my father, who loved the song “Moon River,” which was written by Henry Mancini for the movie “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and was a hit record in at least two versions that I know of: an instrumental by Mantovani and His Orchestra and the vocal rendition by Williams.

My father and his friends, all children of Italian immigrants, all striving to make their way up the ladder of success to join the middle class, attached great value to certain things they perceived as emblems of American aflluence.

My father, for instance, bought golf clubs and went through a phase of playing on Saturdays at the local public golf course, but then gave it up — I believe because he was too tired from working two and sometimes three jobs.

Likewise, he had a bar in his living room where he made highballs and whiskey sours for his friends and aspired to have a finished basement with a really nice hi-fi system where he could listen to Mantovani and Streisand and Sinatra and Nat “King” Cole and Perry Como/…and Andy Williams.

Andy with his cool and mellow way of speaking and singing…Andy with his mohair sweaters and his winning smile…Andy singing “The Christmas Song” as chestnuts roasted on the open fire of some cozy ski lodge in Colorado as the Williams clan and friends gathered ’round every Yule for Andy’s Christmas TV special.

I don’t mean to belittle my father. No, far from it.

The song “Moon River,” with its romance and its nostalgia and its beautiful air of melancholy and longing, moves me whenever I hear it, for I can hear my father — dead ten years this October, gone too soon at age 69 — singing along to the instrumental version by Mantovani about “two dreamers” and his “huckleberry friend…”

“Moon River” reminds me of cool autumn nights with their whisper of winter to come. But the song also makes me think of a young man in the late springtime of his life — my father would have been in his early 30s during those years when I remember him singing “Moon River” — who still believed his dreams could and would come true, “just around the bend,” “my huckleberry friend.”

Yer darn tootin’!

I  am addicted to Fig Newtons. It’s an addiction I cannot explain. I have no particular childhood memory associated with the eating of a Fig Newton. For example, despite rumors to the contrary, it’s not true that one year my poor parents couldn’t afford to buy me a birthday cake so instead put a single Fig Newton on a paper plate and stuck a candle in it and sang “Happy Birthday” while I blew out the candle and made a wish for more Fig Newtons..

(I should say, before I get to my real point, that these snack-food musings were inspired by my discovery just today that Fig Newtons were invented in NEWTON, Massachusetts, which isn’t far from where I currently reside. It’s kind of like a diehard baseball fan living in the vicinity of Cooperstown or a space-exploration buff living right near Cape Canaveral or….you get the idea…)

My point? For some reason, I have no problems with the cupcake people who messed around with Yankee Doodles and created a new yerllow-cake version Sunny Doodles. Likewise, I think Honey Nut Cheerios are a perfectly fine deviation from the classic cereal.

But where I start having problems is when I’m strolling along the supermarket cereal aisle and I spot something like Chocolate Chex. There’s Rice Chex, there’s Wheat Chex and there’s Corn Chex. That’s the holy trinity of Chex. Multigrain Chex I can live with, since I assume it’s a blend of the three classic Chex. But Chocolate Chex?

Carrying this thought a bit further — and finally getting to the point: Fig Newtons should be made from figs. Strawberry Newtons? Cherry Newtons? Grape Newtons? Blueberry Newtons? Apple Newtons? LOW-FAT Newtons?

This is still America, right?  I propose that all of us Fig Newton addicts/lovers gather in Newton, Mass., to demand that Nabisco return to its roots, eliminate all of these fancy flavored Newtons, and focus entirely on the manufacture of plain old perfect original Fig Newtons. Here’s what I propose we call our protest movement: Occupy Newton.Yes, I know Fig Newtons are no longer made in Newton. I also know that when I was kid watching Saturday morning cartoons there were commercials for Fig Newtons with this slogan:  “Yer darn tootin’, I like Fig Newtons.” And I know that nearly $15 million was spent last year to advertise Fig Newtons, according to the Fig Newtons entry on Wikipedia.

So…here’s how we can end this standoff.

If Nabisco agrees to set aside, say, just 1 percent of their $15 million advertising budget to put me on their payroll, I’ll call off the Occupy Newton protests and write something nice EVERY SINGLE DAY about Fig Newtons, especially if the Nabisco folks find it in their hearts to inspire me by sending me the occasional box of complimentary free samples of Fig Newtons.

Am I a reasonable person?  Yer darn tootin’!

Men in sweaters

I was but a lad, very young, but I can remember those ancient times when TV shows were mostly in black-and-white and my father was in his late 20s and his favorite 33 1/3 rpm albums included the soundtrack to the film “West Side Story,” “Songs I Sing on the Jackie Gleason Show” by Frank “Crazy Guggenheim” Fontaine, “Moon River” by Andy Williams, “Moon River” by Mantovani and his Orchestra, “Dominique” by The Singing Nun, “People” by Barbara Streisland — AND (I suppose this might be considered a deep and dark family secret) he loved the television show “Sing Along With Mitch.”

Mitch Miller died a few weeks ago — at age 99! His NBC show — in which a bunch of guys wearing sweaters sang songs like “Yellow Rose of Texas” and “Roll Out the Barrels” while the song lyrics were flashed on the screen (yes, it was a primitive version of karaoke) and Mitch himself with his weird and Satan-like goatee waved his arms and “conducted” the ensemble — was a huge hit.

Here’s something a lot of people might not know about Mitch Miller: Before he had the hit TV show, Miller was a big-time producer at Columbia Records. He “discovered,” among others, Johnny Mathis, Tony Bennett — and Aretha Franklin! But he made Aretha record standard pop music — and Lady Soul wanted some R-E-S-P-E-C-T, and bolted to Atlantic Records. It’s no surprise to learn that Miller passed on signing both Elvis and Buddy Holly…after all, wouldn’t folks prefer hearing a bunch guys in sweaters singing good ol’ American songs like “Has Anybody Seen My Gal?!”

The hell with Elvis and Buddy Holly…Mitch Miller outlived them both… So let’s all sing along with Mitch!