I'm as Corny as Kansas in August

To continue the lyrics from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “A wonderful Guy” from South Pacific:

“I expect everyone of my crowd to make fun
Of my proud protestations of faith in romance,
Loudly I'll sing about flowers in spring,
Flatly I'll stand on my little flat feet and say
Love is a grand and a beautiful thing!
I'm not ashamed to reveal
The world famous feelin’ I feel.”

Now, let’s face it, those lyrics, especially as perceived today, are as corny as it gets. But people loved them then and many still love them now, judging by the numerous revivals of South Pacific, and the reverence in which Rodgers and Hammerstein are still held.

A short while back, I wrote a column about a 6-year-old girl and her mother’s love of Suddenbreakingnews and the bond it formed between them.

Shortly after, someone took it upon himself to volunteer his opinion that the column was “corny.”

People, at least those in my sphere, apparently enjoyed the column by the number of positive comments it inspired, so I decided to delve deeper into the subject of corn and see exactly what corn is, and whether I am indeed guilty of indulging in such a gross journalistic and literary injustice. Deep down I knew I was, or at least teetered on the edge, and was prepared to come to terms with the fact that I am just an old sentimental slob.

A check with Dictionary.com revealed the definition of corny as “mawkishly sentimental.” Going one step further, I looked up mawkish and found it to mean, “weakly emotional; maudlin.” I wasn’t about to stop there, so I went right to maudlin and saw that it was, “tearfully or weakly emotional” or “foolishly or mawkishly sentimental because of drunkenness.”

OK, now we were getting somewhere. I know for a fact I’ve never been drunk, so I wasn’t under the influence of alcohol when I wrote the column. That left “tearfully or weakly emotional.”

That’s it! That’s me. That was the root of my affliction; the seed that planted the corn. The first sign of it came when I bawled my eyes out when they had to put “Old Yeller” to sleep. Heck, I was only 10, and who knew that Walt Disney had such a heinous streak in him, to leave such scars on an entire generation. I knew I was doomed for life when I wept uncontrollably when Elvis Presley was shot and killed in Love Me Tender. But I accepted the fact that this was to be a lifelong condition when I totally lost it when Elsa the lion returned to Joy Adamson with her cubs at the end of Born Free. I had to sit in the theater by myself for several minutes to regain my composure. And finally, there was that tear-inducing moment when a soaking wet “Cat” poked his head around a carton in the alley in the closing scene of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and was cradled under Audrey Hepburn’s raincoat as she and George Peppard kissed.

I’ve tried to remain in the closet, but that’s tough to do when you’re writing about Thoroughbreds. Sometimes, it just sneaks out and goes public.

I got to thinking, perhaps it was the corny, mawkishly sentimental, maudlin side of me that attracted me to horse racing in the first place. It had it all – beautiful animals running their hearts out, sentimental stories, melodrama, and following these magnificent creatures from birth through life and ultimately death.

See, I’m getting corny just writing about getting corny.

Yes, horse racing has its other side and I can relate to that as well. There is the handicapping and betting and owning and business and hardcore reporting side of it. And those are all integral parts of the sport, and what it takes to succeed in them all is greatly admired and appreciated. There would be no sport without them.

I can certainly relate to the hardcore bettor, traveling to and from Aqueduct each Saturday with a bus load of cigar-smoking New Yawkers with the smell of beer emanating from every pore. But I loved every second of it, especially listening to them moan about all the nose defeats and the ones they went off of at the last minute. I miss the mad rush from the busses and trains to make the daily double.

While I still love listening to tales of the Turf in Brooklynese and about da tree and da faw hawse, there is the other side, for sentimental slobs like me and the maudlin masses that are growing year by year. These are the sign holders, the T-shirt wearers, the fan club members, the Facebook page founders, the horse rescuers. They tend to be zealous in their overall love and affection for the horse, especially their favorites. They cry for their heroes, they make grandstands shake after moments like American Pharoah’s Belmont Stakes or Zenyatta’s Breeders’ Cup Classic or Rachel Alexandra’s Woodward Stakes or even for old warriors like Ben’s Cat, and in England, four-time Ascot Gold Cup winner Yeats and the spectacular Frankel, and Australia’s sweetheart Black Caviar, and Japan’s mighty Deep Impact.

Their unrestrained rejoicing as American Pharoah crossed the finish line in last year’s Belmont dominated the cover of Sports Illustrated, as thousands of flailing arms overshadowed even the winner.

So, yes, I plead guilty as charged. Writing about a mother and her 6-year-old daughter’s love of a horse, or any other feel-good story that might be considered corny, will always have a place in this column.

And do you know why? Because after nearly 60 years, I still can’t watch Old Yeller.


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