BERKSON: Brussell Sprouts & Billy Joel


Brussell Sprouts & Billy Joel

Terry Berkson, who has an MFA in creative writing from Brooklyn College, lives on a farm outside Richfield Springs. His articles have appeared in New York magazine, the New York Daily News Sunday Magazine, Automobile and other publications.

Brussels sprouts are just about the last thing we harvest from our garden.

I can remember many a deer season when I’d walk out in the snow-covered yard to get some. Alice likes to simmer them in chicken broth and later pour some honey on them.

Several years ago I drove over to our local nursery to pick up some vegetable seedlings. Alice was weeding when I got home and she offered to help with planting. The broccoli went in OK, as did the peppers, but before the Brussels sprouts found root my wife dropped a shovel on the pack crushing some of the plants.

“I feel terrible,” she said.

“That’s okay,” I offered. “We have plenty left.”

As if to prove I was wrong, Alice lifted the plant box with a gloved hand, only to have it slip to the ground upside down. I turned the box over. Now, every stem was broken. “Is it that you don’t like Brussels sprouts?” I asked.

“The gloves made me do it,” she said in a tone reminiscent of Flip Wilson. “I’ll drive to town and get some more.”

“No problem,” I said, not to make her feel bad. “The roots are still in good shape. They’ll just take a little longer to grow.”

“Are you sure?” my wife asked.

“I’m sure,” I said, but I wasn’t.

So, Alice sheepishly buried the remains of the plants. At the same time I was thinking of how I could erase them from the garden and insert some new seedlings without my wife knowing.

As luck would have it, an hour later a friend called to invite Alice to the Stanley Theater in Utica to see Billy Joel’s show, “Movin’ Out.” When my wife left for Utica there was still time to drive to the nursery to buy more Brussels sprouts.

I returned home and dug out the roots Alice had just planted, placed them back in the ground against a fence to see if they would in fact grow, and put the new seedlings in the original row.

I guess my switching the plants and the mention of Billy Joel and the show “Movin’ Out” had triggered a memory involving another kind of deception.

I was working on construction in a high rise in lower Manhattan.

My partner, Rodney Bunion, was 10 years younger than me, an ex-football player and a product of the “tune out and turn on” generation.

Imagine my surprise one morning when he came in to work with a song he’d written on a wrinkled sheet of brown paper. I got to read it during coffee break and it was good! Real good! Kind of urban folk. It was about this young couple Brenda and Eddie who were still going steady in the summer of ’75.

You got talent!” I tell my young partner.

He knows I’m a writer, respects my opinion and gloats through clouded eyes. He thinks the 10 years I have on him have put me in the Over the Hill Gang.

Nevertheless, I take out a pencil and begin to do some editing to smooth out the rough way he expresses himself.

He doesn’t say anything.

A few days later, Rodney comes in with this beat up, ragged, scratchy record album, “The Stranger,” by Billy Joel.

Up until then the only song I could attach to the singer was “The Piano Man.”

“Take it home and listen to it,” Rodney told me.

I reluctantly followed his advice and once I got past all the skips and scratches I found myself listening to some excellent music and words that I could really relate to, songs like “Vienna,” “She’s Always A Woman” and “Just The Way You Are.”

Then I got to the song with the line about Brenda and Eddie and I realized Rodney didn’t write it, that he’d been goofing on me – pretty much the same way that I was now deceiving my wife about the Brussels sprouts.

I still hadn’t told her about the switch and when she later went out to the garden she was very pleased that the roots had “grown new leaves in such a short time!” Devil that I am, I said nothing.

The plants I put against the fence didn’t do too well. Alice won’t know what I did with the Brussels sprouts unless she reads about it.

Sometimes when we think we’re in the know, we’re not, and sometimes “You may be wrong but you may be right.” Is it that important to “Get it right the first time?”

I wasn’t mad when I found out Rodney didn’t write the song. I hope that Alice too isn’t angry when she finds out what I did with the sprouts.

And as for Billy Joel, he’s been a great success – even without the benefit of my editing.

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