I was born and raised in Willoughby and wouldn’t think of leaving. My job is really important. I work in a band playing nineteenth century music to entertain tourists who come here wanting to escape their dull ordinary lives. Harried city slickers regularly visit to listen to authentic versions of songs like “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” and “Oh My Darling Clementine”.
Beware of one thing, though, if you dare visit. Our village is perhaps too authentically anachronistic. Some poor souls plum forget that it’s all in illusion. Willoughby plays nasty tricks on them. Think twice before coming here.
Of all our relatives, Uncle Jimmy has always been the most obsessed with our Irish ethnic background. This St. Patrick’s Day he explained to us all about how our patron saint chased the snakes-pagans and Druids-out of Ireland.
“Eventually,” he said, “we were confronted with those other snakes, the English and Protestants.”
Not surprisingly, he gave each of us kids a biography of Eamon de Valera and one of Michael Collins.
He’s like an Irish version of Michael Constantine in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”.
“Harvey,” asked Shirley, “Have you ever read about Johnny Appleseed?”
“What makes you think of him?” wondered her befuddled husband.
“Today’s Johnny Appleseed Day,” she explained. “Jonathan Chapman was a famous pioneer nurseryman, Swedenborgian missionary and friend to the Indians. Unfortunately he had a lot of weird ideas. He had views that PETA would like, and was, as an adult, supposedly engaged to a ten year old girl.”
“What’s the good news then?” her spouse couldn’t understand.
“He’s quite a prominent figure in the annals of early American agriculture,” she pointed out. “You should learn more about him.”
Having fallen in love with psychology, Muriel insisted upon taking a class at nearby Farmingdale College. She eventually cajoled her lifelong best friend, Gloria, into agreeing to be her subject for a class project. Knowing Gloria was afraid of both heights and mushrooms, she took her to the top of a building on nearby Melville Road and made her stay there at least once every three days.
“It’s called systematic desensitization,” she exclaimed. “Dr. Wendy Doret says it’s guaranteed to cure you.”
The dizzier and more nauseous she got, the more disgusted Gloria was.
Margaret (never ever again to be Peggy!) was determined to hop a freight train to some faraway big city where she could become a famous author. Having recently read Flannery O’Connor’s “Wise Blood”, she had found her vocation.
“The station’s just down here, Orville,” she cried out to her dog.
“English has always been my best subject at St. Gabriel’s, so I know I’ll be a good writer. Flannery’s symbol was the peacock,” she told him. “Mine can be dogs.”
“Has she called on her cell phone yet, Harvey?” her mother asked.
“Not yet, Shirley,” her father replied. “Give her time.”
Local Irishmen of Long Beach, N.Y., unlike the Irish of many other places, celebrate their ethnic heritage each year not on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, but on the first Saturday of October. Last year, however, it was on the last Saturday of September, in order to avoid any conflicts with the local Jews on Yom Kippur. Because they’re a seafaring region, their patron saint is Brendan the Navigator. The day begins with a parade down Beech Street. The Ancient Order of Hibernians figure quite prominently in the festivities. There are Pipe bands, Irish dancers, Irish music and all the other traditional Gaelic trappings. A large section of Beech Street is cordoned off and there are many food, beverage and souvenir stands throughout that section of the city. As with any other such occasion they have many vendors who show up predictably each year. Local establishments, including Swingbelly’s Barbecue Restaurant and the Knights of Columbus Monsignor Cass Council number 2626, are open to patrons. Tourists arrive from all over the United States in order to see this colorful spectacle. Newsmen from several local periodicals and television networks are always there so they can let people see what’s going on. It’s always difficult to park that day. Anyone in the city had better make sure he is willing and able to walk quite a distance in order to see all the interesting colorful sights.
“Yo,Ma,” blurted out precocious sixth grader Stanley, “Is that the Fregosi Emerald or what?”
“Of course not, Stanley,” explained Mrs. Baggiagalupe. “That stone is in Spain where it belongs.”
“I don’t know, Ma,” stammered the youngster. “It looks a lot like it. Brother James said yesterday in class that Archduke Franz Ferdinand gave it to Sofia right before Gavrilo Princip assassinated them in 1914.”
The lad couldn’t get over the jewel, or anything else even remotely connected with World War I. His mother was happy to indulge his latest obsession. As they continued their shopping trip she asked him to remind his father to get gas.
Each day ten year old Mildred Fleener sat on her porch reading her favorite comic strip, Charles Schulz’ “Peanuts”. She never could get over how its characters were all grammar school kids, with no grown ups to watch over them. In her neighborhood, in her life in general, all was so happy and pretty.
“We have grown ups to thank for that,” she thought. “Sometimes they’re weird but I’d be a-scared of life without them.”
Life in Daisy Hill, her hometown, was nothing like the strangely messed up environment she noticed in the “Peanuts” strip. Still she quite enjoyed the cartoon.
Twelve year old Alice Pleasance Liddell made quite a point of daily visiting her favorite garden. One sunny Saturday afternoon, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, local scholar and friend of her family, happened to have noticed her. He bade her go farther into the maze than she’d ever before presumed to attempt.
“You see, young friend,”-Alice was twenty years his junior-the gentleman exclaimed, “There are all manner of delightful surprises to be found in there.”
Naturally she expected merely to find merely a more colorful variety of flora and fauna. She was quite taken aback at what was in store for her.
“You know, friend Beelzebub,” said Mephistopholes, “The rule of three controls all of reality.”
“Yes, Master,” replied his smitten servant.
“Once I plug my machine in,” exclaimed the evil genius, “The world is mine. Text, context and subtext; melody, harmony and rhythm; plot,theme and setting. I can irrevocably own mankind, each individual’s very soul. Any fool can win deliberately evil sadistic people to us. These three switches, however, merely by distorting things, can bring all those well-intentioned characters to us too. Yes, that’s all it takes. Just juggle things around so they don’t understand.”