Time to go Bananas
When I was six years old, I received a consolation prize of 25 cents for not knowing the answer on a Toronto radio station kids’ program called “Snappy Answers.”
But only twice in my life since then have I ever won anything substantial – and the first time was pure luck. In the early days of my postcard business in San Francisco (about 1968) I’d bought a Rex-Rotary machine, with which I could print my own cards. But it required “stencils” of the designs, which had to be made on another machine, a much more expensive stencil-cutter, which I couldn’t afford. The alternative was to take my art downtown to the Rex-Rotary office and pay to have the stencils made on their machine, then bring them home to run off the cards.
Once, at the company office, I noticed a box in which customers could put their names for a “drawing.” The prize was a new stencil-cutter, which normally cost about $1,200. With the usual “why not?” sort of feeling, I filled in a slip, dropped it in the box, and forgot all about it. Then, a few weeks later, came the amazing news that I had won! This was a life-changing event, enabling me and my wife to operate a small self-contained business out of our San Francisco apartment, before moving lock, stock, and stencil-maker, to a house in Santa Barbara.
But — despite often receiving, in the mail, envelopes emblazoned with the enticing messages like “YOU MAY ALREADY BE A WINNER!” — only once again could I ever actually beam a true winner’s smile. And this time, it wasn’t a matter of luck, but of pure talent. One of my few exceptional abilities is to write new lyrics to well-known melodies. When teaching on a “Floating University,” sailing around the world, I had written songs commemorating the various places we visited. For example, to the tune of “Arrivederci Roma” I wrote a ballad entitled “Your River’s Dirty, Roma.” And, while in San Francisco during the Haight-Ashbury “Summer of Love,” I did a whole series of “hippie” songs, e.g., one to the tune of “My Grandfather’s Clock,” called “My Grandfather’s Pot.”
Not till 1986 did my last great opportunity to be a winner occur, in the form of a pad I discovered in a supermarket. It proclaimed a contest sponsored by the Chiquita Company to write new words to their “Chiquita Banana Song,” which had been so widely broadcast for so long that I’d known it since childhood.
The prize was a luxury weekend in Los Angeles, valued at $2,000. But for me, the real prize would, I presumed, be a chance to hear my new lyrics sung on the media, replacing that old song with its erroneous message that,
“Bananas like the climate of the very very tropical Equator,
So, you should never put bananas in your refrigerator.”
(I’ve always disregarded this injunction, with only good results.) There was apparently no limit to the number of entries you could submit. So, working hard for several weeks, I took no chances, and sent in an even dozen completely different banana songs.
Yes, I won — and Dorothy and I enjoyed a chauffeured limousine ride to a top-class hotel (the Westwood Marquis), plus some elegant restaurants, and entertainment at the Comedy Club. But I was disappointed never to be asked anywhere to sing my winning song, and we were treated everywhere just like ordinary guests.
Only afterwards did I realize that promotional contests like these are run by organizations having little or no connection with the firms whose products they’re hired to promote. To my knowledge, no use was ever made of my winning entry, and I never had any direct communication from the Chiquita Company — not even a word of thanks.
But at least I can share with you here that masterpiece, of my 12 efforts, which won for me this empty glory (if you know the tune, feel free to sing along):
I’m Chiquita Banana, and I’ve come to say:
At home or work or school, or even on your way,
Bananas bring the best to you, for health and fun –
Good taste and good nutrition, from the tropical sun.
Life, no matter what your plan is, can be better with bananas;
In the morning or the nighttime for bananas is the right time.
But it’s dangerous and unsightly to be careless with peel of a banana,
So, my proposal is disposal, in an appropriate manner.