On Sunday nights, Dad would give recitals at Trow-Rico.
People from miles around would come over to hear him, and my
grandma, my mother, and my sister would play duets. All the
families that came up had kids, and Aunt Phyllis would holler,
"C'mon, Steven, let's put on a show for them!" Downstairs from
the piano room was the barn's playroom: ping-pong, a jukebox, a
bar, and, of course, a dartboard. There was also a big curtain across
one corner of the room that made a stage where my aunt Phyllis
taught all the kids camp songs like "John Jacob Jingleheimer
Schmidt" and the "Hole in the Bucket" song. I would pantomime
to an old 78 recording of "Animal Crackers." It was an evening
of camp-style vaudeville. For the finale, we hung a white sheet in
front of a table made from two sawhorses and a board. Someone
from the audience would be brought back to lie on the board, and
behind them a giant lamp cast shadows on the sheet. My uncle
Ernie would perform an operation on the person lying down, pretending
to saw him in half and eventually pull out a baby—quite
horrifying and hilarious to the audience. It was all very tongue-in-cheek but certainly the beginning of my career.
We must have done 150 or more of those
shows over the years. I was a serious ham. I'd do cute things kids
can get away with—especially to adoring relatives. It was like
something from a Mickey Rooney movie. I'd learned all the lyrics
to that Nat King Cole song "Ke Mo Ki Mo."
Ke-mo ki-mo stare-o-stare
Ma-hi, ma-ho, ma-rump-sticka-pumpernickel
Soup-bang, nip-cat, polly-mitcha-cameo
I love you
And then it goes on to something like Sticky sticky stambo no so rambo, had a bit a basket, tama ranna nu-no. What the hell was that? The beginning of my love for real out-there music and crazy lyrics.