Monday, March 3, 2014

SCATTING WITH ELLA FITZGERALD, AT ESTELL MANOR PARK.

In 1998, before I was hip to the “dot com” age, I nicknamed one of my wife’s acquaintances, "WWW," (not as a term of endearment). It stood for, the Wicked Witch of the West. Which today, conveniently helps us celebrate the 75th anniversary of, "THE WIZARD OF OZ."

WWW (or "W") and her family lived in her husband’s parent’s tiny house, which was coincidentally on Western Avenue. In her late thirties, her witch-like presence was exemplified by making no attempt to dye the gray streaks from long, stringy black hair. If that wasn’t enough, her constant dour expression was dominated by a crooked nose, (too bad she didn't have giant facial wart or hunchback to complete the haunting package). Unfortunately for everyone, those were her good qualities. I soon discovered that it was her skewed personality that was truly wicked.

W had two sons, (four and three) who were friendly with my son Andrew. Her innocent little boys were overly bashful, always looked scared and cried over the slightest mishap. But when their mom was around…these bundles of nerves…were much worse.

Mr. W. was a zero too. The two times we socialized, he seemed afraid to speak when his misses was around. This dude was so overwhelmed by her that he flinched every time there was a sudden movement or an unexpected loud noise. The only way to reduce his tension was to attach a permanent Budweiser IV to his arm and go through life anesthetized.

I’m guessing, but Mr. W’s downward spiral started when he inherited a large tract of land in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. Under normal circumstances this would be a financial bonanza…but…the Pine Barrens are being preserved by conservation groups. The restrictions are so severe that building on or otherwise developing the property is nearly impossible. Thus, the W’s vast homestead…is not only nearly worthless but their capricious and unsuccessful legal proceedings to circumvent the law proved to be costly.

WWW felt robbed. If she had a squadron of flying monkeys, I’m certain she would have taken her wrath out on the world. So, because I was aware of her eccentricities, I had to be a moron to try to “cure” her.

What could be more normal than taking little kids to Border’s Book Store? On my suggestions, she brought her sniveling cry babies to the children’s reading hour that featured, a Winnie the Pooh birthday party. While Andrew was being lavished with candy, cake and Hawaiian Punch, the son’s of WWW, under her watchful eye, stared off into space as if in a sad, hypnotic trance.

Soon, a volunteer came out in a Pooh costume. A surge of children, including Andrew, greeted the chubby little cubbie stuffed with fluff. When I turned around, the two W boys were glued to their seats and sobbing. Pooh was making a slow, hug-laden lap around the party area. At a snail’s pace, he advanced towards the two weeping, non-participants. The younger W, sensing acute danger, (Get it? A cute danger), sprang from his chair and ran in screaming hysterics, in the opposite direction. Brother bawler recognized the menace seconds later and followed, with mom right behind him.
SUMMER - 1998. WHAT A GREAT TIME FOR ANDREW AND 98% OF THE KIDS WHO ATTENDED THIS BIG EVENT.  TRUST ME, IT'S HARD TO TYPE WITH A STRAIGHT FACE THINKING THAT THOSE TWO SCAREDY CATS VAMOOSED WHEN POOH LOOKED AT THEM.

A month later, the theme at Border’s reading hour was Dr. Seuss. When I mentioned this to WWW, she lambasted me, complete with her bony finger in my face demanding to know, “What do any of his books mean?” Before I could muster an answer, she dismissed me. So a week later, I had to be a real dope when I invited her and her charges to the children’s nature lecture at Estell Manor Park.
A GREAT DAY TRIP, ESTELL MANOR PARK IS A HIDDDEN TREASURE THAT MANY FOLKS IN MY NEGHBORHOOD ARE UNAWARE OF OR ARE UNWILLING TO TRAVEL SO FAR TO.

WWW couldn't just say, "No thanks."  Instead she used the opportuity as a soapbox to remind me of her hatred of conservation groups and bragged, “In the news, a tiny Greenpeace boat protesting a Japanese whaling ship got rammed, split in two and one of the tree huggers died.” Her joy in telling me was stunning. Then she added, “If I was driving a train-load of lumber and one of those weirdoes laid on the railroad tracks, I would think nothing of cutting the jerk’s legs off.”

I said, “You do realize that a friendly park ranger will teach the kids about being kind to animals or preventing forest fires and do a craft.” WWW ripped into me. She even said incredibly awful things about Smoky the Bear and finished with, “Don’t EVER try to include my boys in your follies!”

Andrew and I were veterans of the park and were never disappointed. That day, the W’s missed out on a nice presentation and a lot of fun. During the years between Andrew being two and seven, we made the forty-minute trip to Estell Manor, about twenty times.

Our visits started at the Warren E. Fox Nature Center. The building housed many displays about; Native American influences to the area, the history of the park, environmental education and ecological issues. Additionally, photos and an array of taxidermy animals that are indigenous to the grounds, helped kids understand the reality of wild life. On the “back porch” they had a mini-menagerie of small, woodland creatures. Andrew especially liked the bullfrog and the bunnies. Whatever curiosity he had about snakes was lost when he witnessed their lunch...a tasty, live, white rat.

The sprawling 1700 acre park has a paved, square-shaped road cut through it. Along this route, twenty-plus miles of paths, tiny trails and other off-shoots are a paradise to a youngster’s imagination. Even when Andrew was two, he showed incredible longevity as we hiked through those woods for long periods of time.

Andrew’s favorite landmarks included; the ruins of a pre-Civil War-era bottle factory, a boardwalk over swamps and a never-ending supply of small bridges over ponds, spongy bogs and marshes. Andrew was also an early reader so he was fascinated that many trees and shrubs had numbers or letters that corresponded to an identifying guide.
THE ESTELLVILLE GLASS FACTORY (1825-1877) WAS ONE OF THE FEW MANUFACTURERS IN THAT ERA THAT PRODUCED BOTH DRINKING VESSELS AND WINDOWS.

Andrew was such a stout walker that he still had energy to climb all over the three different playgrounds that were along the paved road. When he was five, I brought along his bike with the training wheels. Unencumbered by many cars, he rode with confidence to our favorite picnicking site near a lake. The park was such a beautiful setting that when he mastered a two-wheeler, we rode our bikes together.

Still, I doubt we scratched the surface and didn’t nearly explore the park’s entire greatness. But on the occasion of the nature lecture that W dismissed, the highlight was the park ranger’s description of animal fecal matter. That means, if you’re trying to engage the minds of four-year olds, animal crap, is a perfect subject.

Andrew wanted to show me the display. He whispered to me, that “scat” was the big boy word for animal poop. He led me to the signs and read aloud. Soon I knew the difference between a squirrel’s droppings, a deer’s, a possum’s and even a coyote’s.

In the year that followed, despite the rift between the families widening, Andrew and the W boys wound-up on the same tee-ball team. In the name of self-preservation, I tried to separate myself from WWW…who was clearly out of her mind. It was fitting that she was so afraid of her boys contracting lice from an unclean stranger’s batting helmet that she bought each of her boys their own, (she also steadfastly held those helmets when they weren’t in use, so the great unwashed portion of the population didn’t have access to them).

I should have let myself be entertained by W’s antics but mostly I was sickened. If she made her poor little bastards sit at attention in the dugout while waiting to bat there was nothing I could do about it. But when Andrew was standing in the shortstop position and having a good old time kicking up the infield dust, W ran out onto the field, picked him up, set him down (three feet away) on the grass and scolded him…that's where I drew the line.

Still, I controlled myself because I didn’t think Andrew was traumatized.  But her actions were so wrong, in so many ways. My problem was, it would be inappropriate to confront the hag in front forty people. And because my wife wasn’t there, I sought out her fuddy-duddy hubby.

What a mistake. I found Mr. W in his pick-up truck working on his four Budweiser. I said, “You see that? You better straighten your wife out!” He shrugged, “No, I didn't see nuthin'! But whatever it was, take it up with her.” To silently send me packing, he rolled up his window. All ties with the W’s were immediately cut.

To further perpetuate her sons' social ineptitude, WWW decided to home-school them. Thus ending any interaction between the families. Through channels, we heard that WWW forbid her boys to play with Andrew because, his mother, (Sue), “wore blinders and was evil.” Yes, we were angry, but considering the wacky source, it was clearly a waste of time to go out of our way to address her idiocy. It should be noted, shortly there after, the W’s divorced.

By the time first grade rolled around, the W’s were ancient history. Andrew and I were still regularly going to Estell Manor Park but the issue of animal scat seemed long forgotten.

One day Andrew came home from school and he wasn’t his cheerful self. Sue and I prodded him and he mentioned an incident during music class. The music teacher, (Mr. Salty as the kids called him) discussed different kinds of music like, jazz, rock-n-roll, rap, classical and country-western. Mr. Salty said, “Does anyone know about scat?” My boy raised his hand and answered, “Scat is animal poop.” The class erupted in laughter. Apparently Mr. Salty was laughing too because he realized that scat is the formal term for animal solid waste as well as the song styling that included improvised, meaningless syllables in singing. He mentioned Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong as leaders in scatting and that Scatman Crothers nickname was derived from this talent.
ELLA FITZGERALD (1917-1996) MIGHT HAVE BEEN THE ORIGINATOR OF SCATTING.
Andrew was uneasy because he thought he said a dirty word.  Sue phoned Mr. Salty. He assured her that there were no problems.  The incident proved to be a long standing joke between all and us, even after my boy graduated. Today, Andrew appreciates the irony that Scatman Crothers' talents have criss-crossed his life so many times.
BENJAMIN "SCATMAN" CROTHERS (1910-1986) WAS A MULTI-TALENTED ENTERTAINER. LATE IN HIS CAREER, HE TURNED TO ACTING ON TV's, "CHICO AND THE MAN." SOON HE HAD ROLES THAT ANDREW WAS FAMILIAR WITH LIKE IN; 1980's, "THE SHINING," AS WELL AS VOICE-OVERS IN CARTOONS SUCH AS; "THE HARLEM GLOBETROTTERS," "TRANSFORMERS," "HONG KONG PHOOEY," AND AS SCAT CAT IN THE 1970 ANIMATED FEATURE FILM, "THE ARISTOCATS." 

Andrew outgrew Estell Manor but we paid one last visit there when our county's network of Cub Scout's, had a cooperative outing there.  Due to my knowledge of park, I volunteered to make a, "Golden...Red, White and Blue Scavenger Hunt."

While I was in the forest setting it up, I found myself singing and humming Ella Fitzgerald's, "A TISKET, A TASKET."  Of course I didn't know the words too well, so I wound-up scatting it myself.  Click on the link below for Ms. Fitzgerald's three-minute youtube video of it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xbztUizvDjw

I can't be bothered with "whatever happened to the W's? " But now that W has sole possession of her ex's Pine Barren property, wouldn't this be hilarious. If she got off her broom long enough to explore "somewhere over the rainbow" of their land, hiked through the woods with her sons and stepped in flying monkey scat or Pooh's poo? Yes, whether you have no brain, you're heartless or afraid of everything, there's no place like home....even if it's really someone else.  Hey, even if WWW and the boys weren't bare-footed, they'd be justified to cry over that!

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Funny! Who could have imagined, a connection between Winnie the Pooh, Ella Fitzgerald, Wizard of Oz and coyote shit. FYI - Nothing happened when I clicked on the Tisket, a tasket link

Charlieopera said...

A real whackjob neighbor ... you handled it well, signore ... once she put her hands on your son (the baseball field) she was open to the some other equipment (bat) landing on her toes ... hard.