Song Of The Day 2/10/2017: The Main Ingredient – “Everybody Plays the Fool”

The Final 48

City of Onions

Vacaville is situated on Interstate 80 a little less than 40 miles west of Sacramento. It’s often mentioned in tandem with Fairfield, ten miles further southwest, almost equidistant on the I-80 between Sacramento and San Francisco. They’re not as tied to either Sacramento or San Francisco as, say, Davis and Vallejo, respectively. So Vacaville/Fairfield is sort of its own metropolitan beast, just hanging out there in the middle of the road for people who need to stop for lunch.

Fairfield has a little bit of notoriety. It’s where Jelly Belly is headquartered. CC Sabathia lived there until he signed with the Yankees. Pat Morita of Happy Days and The Karate Kid went to high school there. There’s an Anheuser-Busch brewery in Fairfield (with a tasting room).

Vacaville gave the world Papa Roach.

It also has the California Medical Facility, which is where Charles Manson was incarcerated for about eight years in the ‘70s and ‘80s. It also used to have something called the Nut Tree, which appeared to be a combination tricked-out playground, modestly designed children’s railroad theme park, and gift shop. Looking back I don’t know exactly what the hell Nut Tree was supposed to be. I think it had an airport.

But the big thing about Vacaville was the onions. Especially in the summer, the smell of onions hung in the air. This was courtesy of the Basic Vegetable Products Company, based in Vacaville until it closed in 1986. BVPC processed tons of onions and garlic. At one point they had 1,000 employees and had their own bus line for employees that went as far as Sacramento and Vallejo.

We moved from Yuba City to Vacaville (72 miles) when my dad got a position at Capital Federal Savings & Loan in Fairfield. We weren’t there very long. So we didn’t get a chance to do a whole lot, except hang out at the Nut Tree and smell the onions. But there were a couple of secondary developments of interest.

Send In the Blank

My relationship with television got a little weird. I was just precocious enough to move beyond the Children’s Television Workshop to slightly more sophisticated fare, but not so hungry for advanced knowledge that it was anything more than daytime game shows.

In the morning it was The Price Is Right—or more accurately, The “New” Price Is Right. I wasn’t familiar with the old one. In the afternoon it was Match Game, which was shown in the afternoon because some of the humor was a bit ribald. My theory is that they placed it in the mid-afternoon because that’s when some of the housewives they targeted had just made themselves their first mixed drinks of the day and were ready to hang out with other celebrities who were very obviously drinking. I liked Match Game because it was the closest thing adults had to The Electric Company. It had blinking lights and was tangentially related to language skills.

The real reason I mention Match Game is because one afternoon it wrung out the first example of my creating something musical. It was scant—really scant—but significant. Well, not significant, but notable. Well, just go down the scale and stop at the last point before "dubious."

By that time I’d seen a couple of movie musicals on TV: The Wizard of Oz and The Sound of Music. Of course the kid shows I watched made ample use of music too, but those movies made me aware of the narrative art form of musicals for the first time, and they stuck.

One afternoon on our front porch on Westwood Court in Vacaville, flush with enthusiasm and haunted by visions of Brett Somers, I performed Match Game: The Musical. It was a solo show. The plot was basic. The art world was playing around with minimalism at the time, so I wasn’t going to buck that trend. The lead character (me) got a letter in the mail informing me that I was going to be a contestant on Match Game. So I did an opening number, kind of like “The Jet Song,” where I sung about the anticipation of going on Match Game. It was sung to the tune of the actual Match Game theme, but I made up the words. No, I don’t remember them, which is funny considering the object of Match Game.

The rest of the show (it ran a whole 15 minutes) took place on the Match Game set (the west side of the porch) and contained at least two more numbers. One was a dour lament in which the lead character (again, me) complained about getting no points in the first round, while my opponent got five. But I stage a dramatic comeback and win six to five, and the show ends with a song of jubilation. I think it was just a reprise of the opening theme. I didn’t want to work too hard and I knew what a reprise was, so I went with it.

So there. Vacaville had its own Pat Morita.

Too Fast to Live

In Vacaville I got into two car accidents. I was only liable in one of them though.

The first was on a Big Wheel. The Big Wheel was a heavily stylized plastic tricycle that was low to the ground. It was for kids either too cool for real tricycles or too scared of heights.

I’d recently gone to my first not-specifically-for-kids movie in an actual cinema: What’s Up, Doc? starring Barbra Streisand, Ryan O’Neal and Madeline Kahn. (Directed by Peter Bogdanovich, co-written by Buck Henry.) This was a screwball physical comedy that featured a lot of vehicle chases in San Francisco, which is very hilly.

I don’t know if What’s Up, Doc? had anything to do with the first accident, but for years my parents have theorized that it had some sort of influence on my actions. I won’t contest that. All I know is that I decided my relationship with the Big Wheel was getting a little stale, wasn’t going anywhere new, so I thought I’d spice things up by riding it with my eyes closed.

For a few minutes that was fine. Exhilarating, even. This was five years before anybody knew what a Jedi knight was, and there I was wielding the Force like a wooden spoon. My psychic abilities weren’t so developed, unfortunately, that I could see that the next door neighbor had lowered the back door of his truck, so that the corner of the door was just over the sidewalk, exactly parallel to my philtrum, which is that little depression between your nose and your upper lip.

Mine smacked right into the corner of the truck door. There was a lot of blood. I had to get stitches, which you can still see if you look hard enough after gazing into my once-crossed eyes.

That was on me. The other accident was when I was hit by a car on Buckeye Street, one block north of Westwood. I was on my bike crossing Buckeye, fully mindful of my surroundings. A girl who had just gotten her driver’s permit was driving west in a green station wagon. She had more than enough time to see me. I’m thinking her brakes were bad. Anyway, the station wagon knocked me off my bike and I fell hard on my back onto the street. It was a bloody mess, but in the end nothing but a really big flesh wound. I refused X-rays at the clinic because I was afraid of seeing my skeleton.

I hope the girl got over it and it didn’t scar her for life. I think her name was Patty. Patty, everything turned out fine, okay? I led a normal life and got a lot of sympathy, so we’re even. Okay?

A couple of weeks later we moved to the Sacramento area when Dad got transferred.

The Cul-de-Sac

I’ve talked about the acoustic properties of Westwood Court before on this blog, so you can skip this part if you’ve already read this site from cover to cover.

I have to be romanticizing this memory at least a little bit, because I can’t see how it would have happened as I remember it unless everybody’s radios on Westwood Court were playing the same station at the same time and pointing the speakers out their house windows.

But that’s what I remember from walking down the east side of Westwood, where the cul-de-sac was. In my mind’s ear I distinctly recall hearing music playing on that end of the street all the time in the summer, all coming from the AM Top 40 stations in San Francisco and Sacramento. The sound waves bounced around the street, like at an amphitheater. This went on for an entire summer.

I have to be conjuring this one up. I don’t see how it’s possible. But I swear that’s how I discern the experience.

But there are only a couple of songs I remember hearing on the east side of Westwood Court. They were just far off enough to make me think they were coming from the wind. Furthermore, I don’t remember hearing the whole songs—just a couple riffs of each. They were high enough up the frequency meter that the dinky clock-radios they were coming from could reproduce them with some measure of volume.

One was Steely Dan’s “Do It Again.” Westwood was really good at reproducing the opening electric piano riff on that one, and the kid-friendly refrain “You go back, Jack/Do it again/Wheel turnin’ round and round.”

The other was “Everybody Plays the Fool” by the Main Ingredient, whose lead singer was Cuba Gooding Sr. The main sound from that was the opening flute riff: “deet-deet-deet-deet, deet-deet-deet-deet.”

Have a listen. As my friend Ricardo once said, lay down with your head between the speakers and let me know if it works.

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