The calendar says that spring started almost 2 weeks ago, but mid-Michigan doesn’t have much to show for it.
My grandfather used to recite a seasonal poem that started like this:
Spring has sprung,
The grass is riz,
Where the heck the flowers is?
That was his version of a poem called “The Budding Bronx,” often attributed to Ogden Nash, but of unknown authorship. Imagine a heavy Bronx accent:
Der spring is sprung
Der grass is riz;
I wonder where dem boidies is.
Der little boids is on der wing.
Ain’t dat absoid?
Der little wings is on der boid!
Grandpa played a little fast and loose with the words, but he kept the general idea. He did the same thing when he entertained us with “Jake the Plumber,” a parody of “The Face on the Barroom Floor.”
“The Face on the Barroom Floor” is a late 19th century poem, written in ballad style, with serious themes of lost love, ruin, and death. “Jake the Plumber” on the other hand is a comedy poem, a mock ballad, by Lew Brown, who performed his piece in what he called “dramatic recitation.”
Brown was one-third of a Tin Pan Alley songwriting team that included Ray Henderson and Buddy DeSylva. Together they wrote 1920s hits like “The Best Things in Life Are Free,” “You’re the Cream in My Coffee,” and “Keep Your Sunny Side Up.” Brown also published a little collection of his 17 humorous poems, including “Jake the Plumber,” touted on the cover as the “funniest poem every written, every line a scream.”
My grandpa’s version of “Jake the Plumber” went like this:
It was a dark and stormy night
And the moon was shining bright.
All of a sudden the door gave a push open
And the form of a man was there.
Don’t you know who’s it?
It’s I, I’m Jake the Plumber.
I plumb by day and I plumb by night
And ain’t that plumbin’ some all right.
That’s all I can remember.
Here’s the actual start of “Jake the Plumber” as Lew Brown wrote it. Part of the comedic effect comes from replacing the expected rhyming word (like “stare” in the fourth line) with something else:
‘Twas a balmy summer’s evening and zero was below
Outside there was a blizzard, but there wasn’t any snow,
Cohen’s barroom it was crowded, but was not so many people there
When in walked Jake the Plumber and the people began to look
I was once a plumber, and my God how I could plumb,
I plumbed by day, I plumbed by night, and that is plumbing some.
The poem goes on with Jake trying to drown his sorrows over the woman who has left him:
I thought that she would marry me, at least become my wife.
She said she wouldn’t do “neither,” so I said I’ll take my life.
She told me if I did that I would prove my love was true,
And after that she’d marry me so what was I to do…
So, Grandpa got the gist of the original poem just fine, and we loved hearing it. For a long time, my family had a cassette tape of my grandfather reciting “Jake the Plumber”—his way—but over the years it got lost. Or maybe recorded over. We’d give anything to hear his voice again.
Copyright © 2015 by Paulette Bochnig Sharkey
All rights reserved.