friday feast: for i had but fifty cents (i.e., never invite this girl to dinner)

Funny how certain poems stay with you forever, even if you don’t want them to.  You can say to them, “Go away, I have so much on my mind.” You can purposely read other poems, hoping the new lines will cancel out the old ones. But no, these certain poems just give you the raspberry,clinging to your memory like a tick high on super glue.

I’ve been thinking that maybe these stubborn barnacle-like poems are the ones we’ve been forced to memorize under duress.

The poem in question is “For I Had But Fifty Cents.”  The duress:  Mrs. Ishimoto’s tenth grade public speaking class. The assignment: humorous interpretation. I combed through poetry anthologies until I came across this seemingly innocuous poem. It said the author was “anonymous.”  And it was funny.

So, foolishly, I memorized it. To fulfill the “interpretation” part of the assignment, I decided to deliver it in a Southern accent.  My only exposure to Southern accents at the time was “The Beverly HIllbillies.” So I channeled Granny Clampett.

Have you ever seen a short, bespectacled, shy Korean girl do Granny Clampett?

(If you need to take an aspirin to continue, I’ll wait.)

But to give myself some credit, I gave it everything I had:  total character immersion, slightly spastic, but entirely original arm gesticulation, and facial expressions resembling chronic constipation, all the time maintaining that all-important eye contact with the audience.

In short, I was a hit. The audience exploded, and Mrs. Ishimoto gave me an “A.”

This sweet smell of success, coupled with a simple short circuit in my brain, resulted in “For I Had But Fifty Cents” becoming part of my DNA.  I was doomed, I tell you, doomed.

Imagine my surprise when last week I googled this “poem” and discovered it was actually a song!!
Lyrics by Billy Mortimer, melody by Dan Lewis, and published in 1881.

And, there was a YouTube video of some guy singing it!!

If only I had known! I love music. I could have learned to play the guitar and moved to Nashville. I already had the Southern accent nailed. I totally missed my calling. Now that’s what I call duress.

WARNING:  DO NOT READ THE FOLLOWING POEM, and whatever you do, don’t ever get it into your silly head that you’d ever want to sing the dang thing.



I took my girl to a fancy ball;
It was a social hop;
We waited till the folks got out,
And the music it did stop.
Then to a restaurant we went,
The best one on the street;
She said she wasn’t hungry,
But this is what she eat:

A dozen raw, a plate of slaw,
A chicken and a roast,
Some applesass and sparagass,
And soft-shell crabs on toast.
A big box stew, and crackers too;
Her appetite was immense!
When she called for pie,
I thought I’d die,
For I had but fifty cents.

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