The Night Andy Williams Did It My Way

Andy Williams and the Lennon Sisters

Andy Williams crooning with the Lennon Sisters.

As parents, we all experience moments when our little ones do things that are total head scratchers. Maybe they’ll color on a wall or drop a balloon in the toaster. On those rare occasions when Penelope does one of those colossally incomprehensible things that only a small curious child will do, I pause and take a deep breath.

And I think about Andy Williams.

I suspect most parents don’t do this, but I have a good reason.

I was a wee lad when my parents decided to take a big trip to the west coast that included two nights in Las Vegas. I don’t recall where we stayed, but I remember we saw shows both nights. My parents weren’t exactly the hippest duo out there so the first night we sat at a big round table and saw Vikki Carr with The New Seekers. (I had to look up The New Seekers: They are a British-based pop group, formed in 1969 by Keith Potger after the break-up of his group, The Seekers. They’re best known for the Coca-Cola anthem, “I’d Like To Teach the World to Sing.”) All I recall about that evening is knocking a pitcher of water onto my Dad’s lap during the opening act.

Unfortunately, that was also my opening act. The next evening we headed to Caesar’s Palace to see Lennon. Of course, I’m talking not about John but the Lennon sisters (I warned you my parents weren’t hip!) who were opening for Andy Williams. We sat in the very back of the cavernous auditorium. Lots of crushed red velvet and high-backed booths. When you sat in one of these booths, you sunk deep into the cushions. As a little kid, this meant I had a lovely view of the water glasses, a basket of bread and the crumbs on the table.

I nagged incessantly about my horrible view. Finally, my Mom grew exasperated with my complaints, and suggested I sit up on the top of the booth with my legs dangling down so I could see the show better. I sat perched on this spot for about 10 minutes, gazing out at the auditorium, Andy Williams on stage singing The Impossible Dream, while sneaking peeks at the waitresses scurrying into the serving room behind me.

I leaned back and rested my arm on what I thought was a long black rectangular table. When the table seemed to move a little, I didn’t think much about it. Andy launched into his renedition of “My Way,” really pouring a lot of 1970s-style lounge act into it. Kind of like maple syrup getting poured onto kitchen tiles.

I’m swaying slightly, rocking back and forth to the music in my head and the buzz of the place. Andy is roaring toward the big finish, the dramatic pause just before the closing words of this anthem . . .

. . . And I swayed just a little too much. That rectangular table I thought I was leaning on was actually a very long row of trays. Like dominos they began toppling. The crash and clatter echoed through the vast auditorium, loud enough to wake up Caesar from the dead. People everywhere started looking around to see where the noise was coming from.

I wouldn’t say I totally screwed up Andy’s song. He faltered a bit, lost his rythym for a second, but plowed on through. The last clear memory I have of that evening is my Dad’s big hand grabbing my shirt front and yanking me back into the booth, where I stayed hidden for the rest of the night.

No doubt I got in some kind of trouble, but I don’t remember exactly what. I suspect my parents just dropped a note in my bulging colossaly incomprehensible file and let it slide.

We never did go back to Las Vegas.

So, when Penelope fills up her battery-operated toy blender with colored water and hits the “on” button, I try to maintain a little perspective as I wipe off the bathroom ceiling: Well, at least she’s not interrupting Vegas night-club acts.

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The dogs were taking me for a walk the other day when I stopped at the mailbox. Our mailbox, which sits across the road from our home, is rather oversized and resembles a dog house perched precariously atop a pole.  I think my wife actually mistook it for one because she once suggested I sleep in it. I forget what I did to warrant that, but I’m sure it wasn’t good.

I generally bypass the mailbox when walking the dogs. My beagles have no sense of direction, so carrying an armload of mail and dragging them along usually results in a paper trail of letters and catalogs strewn up the driveway. It’s also a little dangerous: One dog likes to attack horse trailers, and what exactly she’d do if she ever caught one God only knows. The other needs only the whiff of a shadow of a possum that lumbered through our neighborhood three weeks ago to dart off on its trail. Also, on days when I stop, the mail will include a box so  large that Carol Merrill should be standing in front of it. (OK, why can I remember the model’s name from “Let’s Make a Deal” circa 1972, but not where I put my damn car keys?)

As a gust of wind whooshed me up the driveway, a large snow-white envelope caught my attention. My first surprise was that it’s addressed to Penelope; the second was who it’s from.

I corralled the dogs into the house and dropped the mail on the kitchen island. My wife is currently on  a detox diet, which means that, by default, I am too. Not that she’s forcing me onto her diet, but I’d feel bad slurping up a giant plate of penne vodka while she’s nibbling on brown rice and broccoli. On this day, she’s stirring a big pot of hot and sour tofu cabbage soup.

Once a friend learned “we” were on this diet and asked if I’d lost anything. “Only my will to live,” I told her.

I called Penelope over. She was standing in her play kitchen pulling from her toy oven a wooden pizza that looked more appetizing than Bern’s soup. I held up the envelope, and Penelope scampered over.

“You have mail,” I said. She cocked her head and blinked uncomprehendingly. “Really, it’s yours. Take it.”

I extended the large envelope, and she tentatively reached for it. “Me? Mail?” I reassured her. She slowly ripped small pieces of the envelope as if she were peeling an artichoke.

Finally finished, she gasped as she pulled out the contents. Her eyes widened in delight. After all, it’s not every day a  three-year-old gets a glossy magazine promoting tourism from the Nebraska Office of Economic Development. I’m not sure why the good folks at the Nebraska tourism board think my daughter is the right demographic to pitch, but I confess my marketing experience is pretty much limited to the “3 Ps.” Yet I still can’t picture toddlers booking flights to Omaha to visit the World’s Largest Ball of Stamps or even the Kool-Aid Museum (with the rather eyebrow-raising slogan “Discover the Dream”).

Penelope loves her shiny new magazine. The first night before she went to bed she left it on the family-room coffee table, pointed at it, then me, and said, “No Papa.” I got the message: Keep your stinking paws off my magazine. She scampered off to the kitchen to repeat the admonishment to Bern.

The next evening, Penelope carried her magazine upstairs and wanted it read to her before bedtime. I conjured up a tale about a mythical, magical place called “Nebraska,” where Elmo and Mr. Noodle frolic when they’re vacationing from Sesame Street. Now, the guide has become a staple in our night-time reading selection. It’s not out of the ordinary for Penelope to want me to read “Polar Express,” “There’s a Wocket in My Pocket,” and “The Nebraska Tourism Guide” before shutting out the lights.

Our daughter may not yet be able to say her full name, opting for the shortened Pelli over the mouthful of consonants and vowels we bestowed upon her. But she can say Nebraska and Omaha.

Addendum: Recently Penelope received a second packet in the mail, this from the Texas Tourism Council, and a third from Rhode Island. If this continues, she may have all 50 states memorized by kindergarten.