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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.

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