"Hatch" is an old family nickname, a Russian-Yiddish endearment of Hal. It goes back at least to when I was 12. I think Old Hatch goes with Almanac a little better than Old Hal does. Old? Well, sixty-six. As for Almanac, I like following and reporting on time, time in a meadow or a woods or a city, time remembered, time deconstructed, with time for rhymes and whimsies when the mood calls for it.
I’m referring to the mysterious “Rosebud,”hoarsely murmured (in tight close-up) by the dying tycoon, Charles Foster Kane, just before the snow globe he’s holding drops and shatters.And of course [spoiler alert!], Rosebud turns out to be his childhood sled.How many times has Kane thought about Rosebud during his life?We see one precursor, when he’s holding the snow globe in an earlier scene (his wife has just walked out on him) and says its name.There is apparently something about it, some wistful return to innocence, perhaps (before he was yanked away by a lawyer and thrust into the life of plutocracy) that makes him need to connect.
We don’t necessarily have to wait until our deathbeds to recall our own Rosebuds.I think they accompany us and come up every so often for reasons that are as mysterious to us as Kane’s was to the reporters who never did figure out what it meant. The mystery is essential, as is the contrast between the simpler time that it comes from and the complicated grown-up memory that recaptures it.
I’ve been thinking about one of my Rosebuds. In my extreme close-up, my lips might mutter the phrase, “Hurry up… hurry up… cows.”
I’ll make it easy on all the journalists who’ll be trying to work that angle for my obit.
“Hurry up, cows” comes from this little record I had, a 45 rpm.I wish I still owned it, although I suspect if I found it on e-Bay it would be no more than the little vinyl representation of itself, instead of the dream-deepened memory that lives in my mind. Even writing about is dangerous, exposing it to the curatorial manipulation of words.
I remember that it had a voice of its own. At the beginning of one side, a deep male voice, the record’s voice, said, “Ouch! That phonograph needle is too sharp!”And at the beginning of the other side, it giggled and said, “Tee-hee-hee, the fuzz on the record player tickles!”(This was back when turntables were covered with a fuzzy velvet.)
Aside from that, I remember only one other thing, this story-song about a big and little cowboy and a big and little fireman. Of the firemen, I can recall what they had for supper when they came back to the firehouse. A big and little portion of the same meal: lamb chops; mashed potatoes; some sort of vegetable, probably peas; and for dessert, a bowl of strawberry ice cream.
Even now, many decades later, I think of that as the ideal supper. Lamb chops at one end, strawberry ice cream at the other. If I were requesting my final meal, I might think of that one.But what I’d say before they dropped the gas pellet would have to do with a song the little cowboy sang, probably as he rode among the herd at night, as cowboys always did.
“It makes no difference if I’m small,
Hurry up, hurry up, cows.
It doesn’t matter to me at all,
Hurry up, hurry up, cows.”
I really admired that little cowboy.Or maybe it’s me now who’s admiring him.(With these Rosebuds, it’s not easy to separate the nostalgia from the feeling you’re nostalgic about.) Maybe that feeling hasn’t changed, though. Who wouldn’t admire a tough little cowboy—not a boy, but boy-sized—doing a man’s work and singing, insouciantly.“It makes no difference if I’m small. Hurry up, hurry up, cows.”
I didn’t feel the same admiration for the little fireman. He seems less independent, somehow, of his tall counterpart. I picture them both at the table, eating their strawberry ice cream. But the little cowboy stands alone. The big cowboy doesn’t figure into it. (What was he going to sing, anyway? “It make no difference if I’m tall”?)
Now that I’ve deconstructed this snatch of a memory, I can see why they didn’t devote the whole movie of Citizen Kane to the sled, but rather about six seconds, at the very beginning and the very end, and all the more powerfully so. It helps if you have something venal and corrupt and complex to set against the irony of a sweet, innocent Rosebud.
On the other hand, if you don’t have irony, maybe consistency can work. Am I still yearning to be the cowboy who doesn’t give a shit how he’s perceived, just does his job, focuses on the cows? Yeah, probably. Who wouldn’t, as I said before. And you don’t have to be a kid to want your own herd to look after. Your cows to be in charge of. Writers feel that way about their words, too.
All right, maybe there’s a little irony, of the pathetic kind, in a grown man hungering for the same ideal his six-year-old counterpart hungered after.Maybe I just have to shut up and let the little scratchy record play, with a guitar strumming in the background, and maybe the sound effects of a couple of hundred (small) mooing cows, as I played it in my room and still play it in my head.