Dangerspouse Rides Again

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Garage - Track

Oct. 31, 2003 - 6:28 a.m.

This one prompted some strained laughter at our dinner table when I was a kid:

What's "Perfect Pitch"? - Tossing an accordion into a dumpster, and it lands on a banjo.

Lemme say a few words about my dad. I love my dad. Here's an illustrative memory:

I'm a kid, see, driving almost every weekend with my dad to either race motorcycles, or to practice racing motorcycles. If it's a race, my (eventually) four sisters and mom would be crammed into the van with us. Races were family affairs.

Often after an event we'd make side trips to local attractions before heading home. It could be anything from the big fair in Danbury, to Revolutionay War cemeteries in Rhode Island, to the Nut Museum in Old Lyme (price of admission: one nut. If you couldn't find a petrified filbert under the driver's seat, you couldn't get in). Small apiaries saw us leave with tubs of wildflower honey. Blueberry stands in Maine. No matter what it was, if we saw it open on a Sunday afternoon it saw our business.

Now this one particular Sunday we had stopped off at a local dairy in upstate New York. It had the whole Cow Theme going, as dairies generally do. But this one also had a little milk bar attached where you could get fresh made ice cream. Five kids under the age of twelve in the van...what are the odds we'd let dad just drive by that one?

I was deep in my Pistachio Phase at the time, so that's probably what was dripping on my shoes that day. My kid sisters, never exactly cutting edge, stuck with staid staples Vanilla and Strawberry. All seven of us lined up along the fence, staring at cows while slurping at the product of their teats.

What is it about these huge, cud chewing dullards that engenders such tranquil repose in people? Have you noticed that? The most ornery old cuss you know, if taken to a dairy farm, will stand gazing serenely across the field of brown and white ruminants until you forcibly lead him away. I've seen it time and again. People just become transfixed when looking at cows. Maybe it's those huge eyes and impossibly bulky body perched on what seems like spindly legs. The animal kingdom's Buddha. It's probably why we have the expression "To err is human, to forgive Bovine."

But I digress....

We were standing there eating our cones, and we weren't alone. Daytrippers from Manhattan, general dairy enthusiasts, and people like us who'd just happened on the place, were all lined up enjoying frosty confections and staring like dumb animals at the dumb animals.

I couldn't help noticing that about 10 yards down the fence from us stood a very elegant middle aged couple - obviously society swells getting a dose of "back to nature" that they could regail their peers with back at the Rainbow Room.

I was particularly impressed by the woman. She wore a string of pearls, and I remember a blue dress over her bosomy, matronly carriage. Heels. In the mud. Her male half was decked out in equally nice threads, but it was the woman who held my attention. My own mom was usually garbed in terry bathrobes, or lime green polyester capri's from K-Mart. The only women I ever saw wearing pearls were on the pages of the Playboys I used to steal from my buddy Dave's dad. I didn't realize you could wear them with clothes, too.

I was just about to turn away when my Dad, who apparently had been eying these rare birds also, gave me a nudge.

"Hey Tom," he said softly, "watch this."

I refocused my gaze.

The dowager and her hubby were particularly enthralled by a large member of the herd that had come to chew its cud just about arm's length from them. They were ecstatic, as if they'd discovered some species long thought extinct. Lots of excited smiles and gestures passed between them.

What my father noticed, and wanted me to also, was that the cow was slowly turning to face away from them. And as she did so her tail was slowly but steadily raising. When she was 180 degrees from the couple, her mast was vertical.

The happy duo didn't have a clue.

Many of you will no doubt not require me to go on. But for those of you who have never been priveleged to stand in a sloppy, foetid field looking at nearly immobile 4-legged leather and milk factories, here's what happened:


Yep. Ol' Bessy had to go, and when a cow's gotta go, a cow's gotta go. And she really had to go, apparently. That cow let fly with a rope of urine that was probably 3 inches thick, moving at what seemed like a hundred miles an hour. Straight into...Mrs. Society's pearls. I mean, wham!, full in the chest. It knocked her flat backwards into the muck, her (vanilla, single scoop) cone flying back to the parking lot. Hubby was drenched by the impact spray, but he still gallantly helped his reeking, drenched bride to her feet. There she stood with her arms out, yellow rivulets of pee coursing down every seam of her Coco Channel creation. She was frozen in mute horror, no doubt thinking that this was how we hoi polloi often found ourselves - by choice - and now she was One Of Us. She began sobbing quietly as her husband helped her back to their elegant sedan.

Now, my dad had easily enough time to warn the hapless pair of their impending doom. But...he didn't. Don't get me wrong, my dad is one of the kindest, nicest, blah blah blah humanitarians you'll ever be fortunate enough to meet. He toiled away for years doing medical research, being granted numerous patents for inventions that have probably saved either your life, or the life of someone you know. And he doesn't see a penny from them - his company owns it all. He's the Christian you wish every Christian would be. Humble although brilliant, generous to charities even on his small salary and with 5 kids (without mentioning to others that he gives to charities), and never ever pushes his faith on others.

But he has this one, very un-Christian flaw: if it's funny, then ethics be damned. And so he let that woman get nailed by a river of cow pee. And I love him all the more for it.

Another rather odd thing about my father is that he was, in his youth, somewhat of a prodigy on the accordian. I know these days that's akin to telling someone you're a world class charioteer, but back then it really meant something. He played Carnegie Hall for christ's sake. In his teens, he auditioned for, and won, a seat in the world renowned "Otto Sarasotto Accordian Orchestra". ("Otto S." was the stage name adopted by the man. He was a German immigrant who chose that moniker because it was a palindrome. Cute, huh?)

By the time I made my grand appearance into the world, my dad had given up playing seriously. But he still had his accordian - a massive, brilliantly gleaming turtle shell and real ivory wonderbox. It had been custom made for him at the Hohner factory in Germany, and presented to him by Mr. Hohner himself. At the time, my dad told me, it had cost $600 - about half the price of a new Chevy. His parents were glad to pay it.

Now you may laugh, but I tell you, when someone who is Truly Gifted at anything graces you with an exhibition of their skills, it can be awe inspiring. And so it was when I was a kid. My sisters and I would sit in unmoving silence when my dad dragged that sucker out of its green velvet lined alligator suitcase. You have no idea how overwhelming a full concert accordian, pounding away with half its stops open at around 105 decibels, can be in a 10 x 15 living room. Especially when played by a Master. Show tunes, full Classical arrangements, the obligatory Polkas and Spanish tarantellas - you really do have no idea unless you've been there. Just amazing.

And like everything else about my father, probably no one outside our family knew he could do it. But that was just him. His buddies at work had no clue he was a nationally ranked motorcycle racer. His church circle didn't know he was instrumental in developing a groundbreaking treatment for malaria in the '80s (for which he was given a watch with a mosquito insignia by his grateful company, btw). Or that he's building an airplane in his basement (a Mustang-2 EAA kit) and taking aerobatics lessons in his Luscombe on weekends. And so on.....

But like so many things, one day the accordian was put away in its alligator suitcase and was never re-opened again. At least not by him. It was still an endless source of fascination for us kids. It often got dragged out of the back bedroom closet whenever we found ourselves without parental oversight. We would hoist it onto our chests and pump those huge bellows back and forth with all our strength, mashing at the keys and wondering how on earth dad did it. Predictably enough it suffered some contusions and other indignities during those years.

By my college days though, I had grown out of the fascination also. My dad rarely played, and I had other toys to keep me occupied. If I thought about it at all, it was usually a fleeting memory whenever I heard a Weird Al tune. "My dad was SO much better than that...."

So imagine my suprise when my father called me up earlier this week and said, "Hey Tom, do you remember that accordian I used to play...?"

Remember? Granted, it hadn't been in the forefront of my mind for a decade or so, but not remembering something that impressive would be impossible. Like asking Neil Armstrong "Hey...do you remember landing on the moon, by any chance?" Of course I remember!

Turns out my dad, on impulse, dragged that suitcase out of the closet for the first time in a couple of decades, on a whim. It had lost some of its shiny brilliance, and there were some cracks that made air leak out when squeezed. But it still played.

He got nostalgic. And determined.

Well, after doing fairly minimal research, he actually found an accordian repair place not too far from his house. Not only a repair place, but an actual haven for accordian aficionados - all of whom had heard of Otto Sarasotto and his orchestra and held my dad in some awe when they found out he'd played with them (my sister, who was along for the ride, blabbed). They oooh'ed and aaahh'd over his magnificent Hohner and vowed to fix such a historic machine (which they now valued at around 10G, btw - about half the price of a new Chevy, still). Sure enough, they sent away for workings from Italy and Germany, and within two weeks had installed and repaired all necessary parts. Give my Creature life! It is the accordian Phoenix.

They also, it turns out, have an accordian orchestra! They practice in the basement of the shop, and give concerts locally. They've asked my dad to join them, and he told them he'd consider it if his chops came back once he starts practicing again. But in the meantime, they are having their annual Big Concert this weekend, with accordian players from all along the Eastern Seaboard showing up to do renditions of "Lady Of Spain" and "Beer Barrel Polka". The local orchestra will also do a set, mostly Classical.

So my dad wanted to know if I'd be interested in coming down to check it out. He asked with some timidity, almost apologetically, no doubt expecting his rock-and-roll son to scoff with outright contempt. Like most Americans would. You would, wouldn't you, America?

But frankly, I've been waiting years to hear this. I mean, I was blown away as a little kid by that one, single, orchestra-in-a-box accordian blasting away in our living room. I'd always wondered what kind of overpowering crescendos could be generated by scores of them playing at once.

And now I'm about to find out. This Sunday, somewhere outside of Collingswood New Jersey, will be gathered over fifty professional and amateur squeeze box illuminati. And they're gonna blow the fuckin' roof off, I bet.

But really....I wish he'd taken up the guitar so I could invite my friends, too.

I'll let you know how much socially unacceptable fun it was when I get back. Roll out the barrel...we'll have, a barrel, of fun.... See ya!

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