Sunday, May 30, 2010

That Old Man

My youngest daughter’s favorite activity is to have a “This Old Man” picture book read-slash-sung to her. The last page, page eleven, finishes with

This Old Man
He played songs
He played knick-knack all day long
With a knick-knack, paddy-whack
Give a dog a bone
This Old Man came rolling home.

Which got me thinking ...

Who exactly is this old man? Why does he play songs all day long? Perhaps he’s independently wealthy. Perhaps he was a musician in the 60s and is living off the royalties of that top-ten hit, “Knick Knack.” So now he spends his days like Jimmy Buffet, jamming away on some Caribbean island, drinking and partying and playing that hit single.

Maybe he hates “Knick Knack.” I mean, wouldn’t you? I love it when all these fossil bands from the 60s and 70s have their reunion tour, play excitedly though “the new album” material, only to have some fat bozos in the crowd shout out, “Whipping Post!” or “Iron Man!” And they have to dutifully play through songs they’ve played a gazillion times and act like they’re approaching samadhic joy onstage.

So maybe our Old Man hates “Knick Knack,” but the merciless crowds are demanding he play it. No wonder he comes rolling home every night; he’s probably wasted out of his gourd trying to forget it all.

Could it be possible he can play “Knick Knack” all day long because he’s living in some socialist utopia where you retire at age 52 and need to do something to fill up those remaining three or four decades of life? That whole “rolling home” thing could mean he takes a bicycle to the park where he plays “Knick Knack.” For surely in Socialist Paradise we’ll all be bike-powered, when we’re not taking mass transit.

Then again, my mind took an even darker turn. What if “playing knick knack” was a euphemism for a sexually explicit act? Eh? Fits right into the “dirty old man” paradigm. He’s hopelessly addicted; his life, the few precious years left, the fewer precious days for the chance of redemption, all the remaining days of his life are devoted to who he can “play knick knack” on. And that whole “give a dog a bone” thing … I mean, that’s gotta be a euphemism for something nasty and unwholesome.

However, I also recall those eight or nine months a few years back when I worked in NYC. Particularly the panhandlers, more especially the musically talented panhandlers. I remember a certain intersection around Seventh or Eight Avenue in the low Forties which regularly had a pair of down-on-their-luck dudes diagonally dueling on drums. One gentlemen would bang away on some type of African percussion instrument; his foil would rhythmically beat the hell out of a bunch of overturned plastic buckets. But … it sounded good. I think they fed off each other’s energies.

Anyway, what if our Old Man bangs around for some spare change. Let’s envision the Eevil Republicans running town hall. Cops on the beat are swinging their batons at our Old Man. He’s just trying to make an honest buck, get back on his feet. And he has a dog to support! A scruffy, lovable mutt who tails him until they become inseparable. Instead of taking that twelve or thirteen dollars down to the liquor store for a pocket-sized bottle of rum, he gets himself his daily meal from KFC and gives his canine companion the leftover bones.

Our noble homeless “Knick Knack” man, rolling on home like a rolling stone, home being the local Y.

Such are the thoughts that flow through your mind when you’re on your ninth or tenth run-through of the day of your littlest one’s favorite songbook.

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