"Try the whitefish…I’ll be here all week!"

So my s.o. and I are in the kitchen this afternoon and she tells me she wants me to chop up all of the vegetables for our dinner tonight. “You are going to be the cut-up,” she says.

“This horse walks into a bar,” I respond, attempting to affect the simultaneously nonchalant and manic delivery of Sheckey Greene and failing utterly. “Bartender says, ‘Heya pal, whats with the long face?’ Bud-ump-bump-tish!”

“Never gets old, does it?” she responds, having heard that tired joke many times before.

“Try the whitefish,” I repond, “I’ll be here all week!”

“Why did they say that?” she wonders aloud. “Were they trying to get rid of it?” (it=whitefish)

“I have no idea,” I reply. As a midwestern kid, we all told jokes with all of these Borscht-belt references… and I doubt we even knew where the Catskills were. Annie grew up in Denville, just outside N.Y.C., but, even if she were Jewish, she would have been too young to know about the Jewish supper clubs in the Catskills. By the time she came on the scene I’m guessing those clubs were long gone. And I grew up in Missouri; pretty far from Milton Berle’s stage. I guess we grew up listening to commedians who admired the work of Berle, Greene and the other commedians of that time and place. “Try the whitefish,” is something we say after having repeated an old joke. Growing up, my friends and I repeated it endlessly, as well as cribbing lines from Marxs or the Howards/Fines (“If you moved any slower, you would be walkin’ backwards,” or, “Roy Rogers never met you, did he?” and the like). We admired the unflappable wise guys who were never at a loss for words.

It wasn’t ‘our’ culture any more than ‘Gangsta Rap’ is really the culture of my 13 year old solidly middle class private schooled nephew… but we sucked up and regurgitated those jokes from Three Stooges routines the same way he soaks up Grand Theft Auto and we dropped references to trying the whitefish like he mentions ‘loading the nine.’ We also watched Looney Tunes cartoons, many of which dated back to The Second World War, so we had access to references to coupon books, rationing, blackout regulations and Carmen Miranda without really understanding those things. It’s really strange when you think about it.

In an interview, Robert Crumb says he thinks he internalized all kinds of ‘cultural junk’ when he was a kid — like ‘Little Rascals’ serials, Bazooka Joe cartoons and the like. Recently I’ve been thinking of all the crap I’ve absorbed (or steeped myself in) over the years, and wonder how it ‘comes out’ in how I view the world and what I do.


6 Comments on “"Try the whitefish…I’ll be here all week!"”

  1. Heh, interesting. I found that I soaked up quite a bit of the cultural detritus as well. You know, I don't think it was until second or third grade when I realized that the Little Rascals, Looney Toons, Three Stooges, Lone Ranger, etc were not contemporary. As a matter of fact, I solidly remember being in second grade still thinking that we were fighting WWI and all of that. Yeah, I was a strange kid 😉 – and perhaps still am. I know a lot of that stuff really has shaped me forever.

    Where in Missouri did you grow up? I was born in Springfield and kind of floated between Springfield and the St. Louis metro for several years.

  2. Er WWII rather. I didn't know much about WWI until later. My grandfather is a WWII vet (still going strong at 86!). He wouldn't talk about the war so much as he would about the culture that surrounded those times. I still love to talk to him about it.

  3. limpey says:

    J- My grandfather was a WW1 and WW2 vet, too, but his side lost which made watching 'Hogan's Heroes' as a kid somewhat problematic in our household. Faulty: “Whatever you do, don't mention the war!”

    Now that I am older I suppose I could watch it all I wanted, but I'm old enough to realize it is utter garbage so that simple pleasure is denied me. Plus whenever I see him I simultaneously picture Bob Crane fisting some poor woman and I've got to make those images stop.

    We lived in University City for part of my young life where I attended Our Lady of Lourdes school, which was it's own little circle of hell. Favorite place to go on a hot St. Louis Summer afternoon: The Varsity Theatre. My parents still live there (but in Webster now… ironic that they moved to a part of the city with decent public schools long after their kids would have needed it). I make it down to St. Louie every year or so — the place has changed a lot (for the better if you dislike blight) whereas the city I currently live near (well, just outside of) has gone downhill. Perhaps Detroit would be better off if I moved away.

  4. @Limpey – When I was in High School/first few years of college wee used to go to St. Louis quite a bit (up from Springfield) to catch some punk and ska shows. From what I recall, they had a pretty good scene back in the late 80's early 90's. Well better than Kansas City (which we would also go to) due to the fact that there was a sizable contigent of Nazi punks and skins that would tend to ruin the good punk and ska shows in K.C.

  5. limpey says:

    For music I remember the Sports Palace fondly… other days of the week it served as a roller disco, so it was a bit odd… plus many events at all of the VFW halls and even Turner's Hall as well as a bar in Shaw Park that I can't remember the name of. Cicero's Basement in the Loop and another place down on Lemp Street that I think was called “Off Broadway” were also good. A few years ago I passed by Turners was sad to see it was boarded up and in ruins

  6. limpey says:

    A quick search turned up this:
    http://www.builtstlouis.net/northside/hyde_park03.html
    An interesting building with a lot of history — too bad its gone.


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