Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Growing Up Green (Acres)

Every once in a harvest moon, a couple of city people get the wild idea that they would be better off living by a babbling brook with the pretty deer and some fluffy bunnies. Whether it's a genetic mutation, a Darwinian attempt at entertainment (hey, Einstein, hold my beer and watch this), or yet another attempt at a FOX reality show, every so often it happens.

My parents are from Brooklyn, a part of New York City whose name is derived from the Indian word for "arrow broken by heavy accent." When my parents married they decided, much like the nimrods from Green Acres, to move to the countryside. I blame this decision partly on the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn. A diehard Bums fan, my dad decided that once his beloved team headed west, he might as well hang it all up, get married, and move to the 'sticks,' because his life was essentially over.

Both of their families railed against the move. "Oh, my gawd, there are Indians up there!" howled Aunt Mary.

"You'll nevah see us again!" warned Uncle Frank. (This was the same Uncle Frank who would visit us and our pool every summer for thirty-five years.)

"Are you freakin' outta your freakin' mind? Did you even check to see where the nearest deli is? You will freakin' starve!" Uncle Louie murmured. Uncle Louie wasn't our real uncle, but Brooklyn Borough regulations stated that everyone had to have at least one relative named 'Louie,' 'Vinnie,' or 'Tony.' If you didn't have one, one was provided for you at a nominal charge.

Brooklynites live by a different map. First, there are the local neighborhood landmarks consisting of the deli, bakery, corner store, and butcher. All local places are on a first name basis, for instance, Third Street Delicatessen is called Vinnie's because it was owned by Vinnie Constantino. It doesn't matter that Vinnie died twenty-three years earlier - it is Vinnie's, dammit.

Travel is by bus and subway. Routes are referred to by the letters of the train or bus - take the 'A' Line to Rockaway- for instance. A big trip involves a 'transfer,' or multiple trains and buses, maybe even to one of other boroughs of New York City. Beyond the city is the frontier town known as Yonkers, then the wilds of Indian country where my parents ended up, then Canada. We learned quickly not to tell relatives that Indians didn't really live here, because if we did, they'd be up here all the time asking us where the nearest deli was.

City people do not use standard directions such as north or south. Instead, you're told to "go to Avenue D and hang a right at Vinnie's." If you don't know that Vinnie's is actually labelled Third Street Delicatessen then you must be from freakin' Yonkers and don't deserve to live anyway.

Countryborn, I learned to tell time and direction by the sun and stars. I gave valid directions to the citidiots that attempted to visit us, but sadly, they'd get lost anyway. For color, I'd throw in 'take a left at Jimmy Joe's turnip truck' knowing full well the truck wasn't there. Jimmy Joe was serving three to five for embezzlement and not selling turnips anymore. Hee, hee, hee. With no cable television, we made our own entertainment. Ain't no hatrack on my neck, suh.

Green Acres was an amusing show. My childhood was amusing as well, mainly because I survived it. Unlike the television show, though, my childhood consisted of many trips to the emergency room. Even then it was entertaining, at least for the nurses and doctors attending to my injuries. They usually got a good chuckle out of my medical record, which included:

  • bitten by horse (stitches)
  • bitten by dog (stitches)
  • trampled by cow (contusions)
  • trampled by horse (lacerations, contusions, and a concussion if I remember correctly)
  • kicked by horse (cracked ribs & an impressive double horseshoe bruise/tattoo)
  • thrown by horse (severely bruised bottom and pride)
  • thrown by cow (massive embarrassment)
Once (thank goodness only once), I was in the henhouse gathering eggs when a chicken hopped off a rather high nest right onto my head. As she landed, she slipped and entangled herself in my hair. Naturally the birdbrain panicked, flapping her wings in my face as her claws scraped my scalp. I couldn't get a grip on her and the weight of her body hanging off my hair bent my head almost to the ground. Make a note- when you're in a henhouse, don't fall down. The floor is incredibly nasty and slippery with....stuff.

After several long minutes of flying feathers and torn follicles, I was able to unleash the beast. Since the giggling of the emergency room staff was still ringing in my ears from my last visit, I skipped reporting this to anyone. When an incident like that goes public in a small town, just try to get a date to the prom. Nobody wants to be seen with the owner of a Girl Scouts' Chicken Attack Survivor badge.

One morning before school my mom was out back feeding our massive herd of cattle, Larry and Suzy. Yes, two whopping head of Angus. How tough could that be, right? Larry, however, was still cranky about losing his Rocky Mountain oysters and, much like many cuckolded cowboys, was determined to prove how macho he still was without them. He pawed the ground and charged at my mother and her grain bucket. A tough redhead from Brooklyn, my mother refused to relinquish the grain, opting instead to head for the nearest tree, where she remained all through breakfast. Finally my siblings and I had to head for the school bus. My dear mother, still treed by Larry, gave us a lovely Rose Queen wave from a sturdy branch, warbling, 'Have a nice day at school!'

In Algebra class, a friend asked me what I was thinking about. By then I knew better than to share the embarrassing truth, so I made something up. Never, ever tell a friend that you're wondering if your mom's still stuck in an apple tree with a fierce steer named Larry waiting below. It took me years just to tell my therapist about it.

I watched Green Acres for years, waiting patiently for them to unmask the dark side of nouveau agrarianism, but it never happened. Arnold the pig never ended up as bacon next to Sunday morning pancakes. None of their cows ever ambled by with meat cuts outlined in surveyor's chalk on their bodies. They never addressed the problem of turning a horse around in your bedroom and getting her downstairs again before your mom found out she was in the house. Serious flaws in a sitcom, if you ask me. Reality, however, kept me in stitches.


ScottMGS said...

...kept me in stitches. Ha! I love it. And you're so right about chicken coops - nasty!

So, Annie, do you still have the horse-shoe tattoo?

I just like saying that: Horse-shoe tatoo. I bet you can't say that five times fast. Horse-shoe tattoo. Horse-shoe tattoo. Horsh-whoo tattoo. Dang. I can't even type it fast.

Anonymous said...

I was so incensed when the Bums left Brooklyn I never got over it. My ire was directed mostly at the city fathers who let it happen.

Shania said...

Great post. Love the Brooklyn accents!

Annie said...

Struggle - while I feel your pain, it's been fifty years. I don't expect you or my dad to ever get over it. But those city fathers who did it are probably sharing cigars with Lucifer by now. Just sayin'.

Kristina said...

A horse in your bedroom? Really? Wow.

When I was a kid, we had a pony, 2 dogs, 3 cats, 2 baby goats (briefly before we had to give them away), 3 ducks, 3 chickens. But it wasn't a real farm or anything. The ducks and chickens didn't lay eggs (too old or something), or else the eggs didn't hatch. But it wasn't as funny as what you went through.

Our neighbors had a couple of beef cows. Every now and then they'd *disappear*.