A Tisket, A Tasket – a Basketful of Pain

A-tisket, a-tasket

A green and yellow basket

I wrote a letter to my love

And on the way I dropped it

I dropped it

I dropped it

Yes, on the way I dropped it

A little boy he picked it up and put it in his pocket.


Most of us having heard these lyrics have reasonably assumed that the author here is no Casanova. He – most of us probably figured this was a dude – repeats himself four times in nine lines, opens with nonsense words and random basket imagery and goes on to stutteringly convey the bumbling sequence of events in which his letter was lost.

In a recent re-examination of this classic, however, some bits of this poem appear strikingly out of place. Even taking into account the author’s apparent flakiness, some things in his tale just don’t add up.

How, for example, does our narrator know that a little boy picked the letter up and put it in his pocket?

It’s conceivable that the writer doubled back on his trail once he realized he’d dropped his letter, arriving at the exact place where he happened to have let it go just as a little boy was picking it up. But then, why wouldn’t he have just notified the lad that the letter belonged to him and simply corrected the situation?   What the author describes is a rather more enigmatic scene – he drops a letter and watches in silence until a random boy finds it and puts it in his pocket.

It cannot be said that the letter’s author intended this course of events at the outset – he clearly states that it was on his way to delivering the letter when things began to fall apart. He did not intend to drop his letter. He did not intend for the little boy to pick it up. But something happened on the way to his destination – something that caused him to drop his dispatch and watch in apparent stupefaction, as a stranger picked it up and walked away.

Having been left no other clue, we must finally call into question the significance of that opening, nonsense image of a brightly-colored basket.

If at first we imagined the basket tucked under the arm of the poem’s narrator, we must now reconsider; if that had been the case, the devoted lover surely would have tucked the letter safely inside, where it would not have been dropped in the first place.

No – this basket belonged to someone else. Someone blocking our narrator’s way – someone our narrator was never able to pass. The tenor of the rhyme – stuttering, fraught with repetition and a fixation on the key sensory images including the colors of the stranger’s basket, and the whereabouts of his dropped letter – are most appropriately taken not as the chronic indicators of a foolish personality, but the situational response of a person under trauma.

What could have caused such intense duress in a writer delivering a love-letter? What could have caused him to drop that letter in the first place? What could have left him stunned and helpless to observe as a child came along and later pocketed his precious correspondence?

What was in that stranger’s basket?

The only thing a vibrantly colored basket can contain and still be seen as horrifying. The same thing kept today in brightly-colored coolers and thermal bags in medical units the world over.

Human.  Innards.

Tragically, it seems this dear ditty’s narrator stumbled into the hands of a black-market organ trafficker, who promptly attacked, ripped out his most marketable bits, and slung him into whatever shallow ditch or dale afforded him a view of his letter laying in the road. It is with helpless horror that he later observes the young child pick up the letter and carry it obliviously off, presumably into the same hands that finished off our narrator.

These lyrics can only be seen as the gasping last words of a lover struggling without being able to make sense of what has happened, to warn whoever it is that finally finds him – go back the way you came. There are merchants of death ahead.

Case regretfully closed.

So You Want to Be A Stripper…

Stripping isn’t something I’ve always wanted to do. But it’s something I’ve wanted to do since high-school, when an acquaintance of mine took up the trade and I learned there was a way to make a thousand dollars per night without committing to a full-time career.

I knew, you see, that I could never live as anything but a full-time writer. But I also knew, with painful certainty, that I could not abide the traditional writers’ existence in my parents’ basement, despite it’s being spacious and filled with inspiring creatures. Stripping, I knew, would have solved the issue of a livelihood in the near future.

To imagine actually doing it, though, I’d have to picture myself in an alternate lifeline where my parents, boyfriend of several years, and social privilege didn’t exist, and I was free to live the life of a Desperate Woman without shame or guilt. I was brought up to know better.

Ten years later, my mid-twenties found me strangely single, living an hour-and-a-half removed from my parents, and under some degree of financial duress. I found myself in a situation I hadn’t expected – in a perfect position to explore the occupation that had seemed such a godsend in my fantasies.
Getting started turned out to be a bit trickier than I had anticipated. For any of my illustrious readers who may eventually find themselves in this situation, the first tip I would like to offer is:

1. Don’t Shop for Stripper Clothes at Macy’s.

Don’t look at me like that. I had a gift card.
But really, don’t. Macy’s, if you have an ulterior motive of tearing off your clothes on a stage for the very first time and slapping folks with stacks of ones, is kind of terrifying.
I don’t know if it was the fluorescent lights’ glare, the critical grimace of each matronly shopper inspecting racks of flowery knit apparel, or the pleasant inquiries of sales mavens as to how they might assist me, but I was impressed with the immediate conviction that everyone and everything in the store was colluding to pry my secret purpose from me and cast me promptly out again. The lingerie section was not sexy. Or…perhaps some of it was, but those things were next to other things that appeared to be girdles, and probably anything compared with a girdle looks sexy, and would any of it look the same under ultra-violet lighting anyway? I began to feel queasy, examining my stipperwear options in a store that is not, most emphatically NOT, designed with visceral sex in mind.
I made my way to the shoe department last of all. I had been told the shoes were the most important part. I knew I needed stiletto heels of six inches or higher, and I’d read in CandyGirl that stripper shoes should be white. I didn’t have a ruler, and because I had exclusively worn sneakers until this point I couldn’t tell from looking which of the pumps were six inches. Also, I couldn’t tell from looking which of them would stay on my feet or hurt to wear. I had read, many years earlier, all about the disadvantages of thin heels on one’s spine, and so I chose the pair with the longest heels I could find and asked the attendant whether they came in white. “Sorry, we’ve just gotten rid of most of our summer colors,” she told me, after a look through the back.
“What color is your dress, dear?” A middle-aged fellow-shopper smiled encouragingly.
“Um,” I coughed, panic rising at the sudden, benevolent interrogation. “I always get my dress last, after the shoes. The shoes have to come first.”
“Every girl is different,” she laughed.
I laughed, too, nervously. I couldn’t tell whether she was on to me.

2. Don’t Wear Schoolgirl Braids when you Audition at a New Club.

I made this mistake twice.
The first time I went to a club it was with my hair in braids. Having already gotten the OK from the club’s owners, I was pointed to the dressing room. I dawned my Macy’s clothes, which consisted of a bright pink set of lingerie, a pair of tights and strap-on pumps, and a pair of frillie pink booty shorts, and proceeded to onto the club’s floor where I strutted around the perimeter of the room, hissing “What am I supposed to be doing?” at passing bartenders, dancers, and security staff. A veteran dancer eventually took pity on me and took me back to the dressing room, where she had me shake out my braids, ditch the granny-panty-booty-shorts, and don a slinky black dress of hers. When I re-emerged, the bartender acknowledged my existence. It would be seven or eight months before a waitress asked me casually what it was like to be Amish, and I learned those first-day braids had resulted in a rumor, sincerely believed by all but the two who started it, that I was an Amish girl on a quest for self-discovery.
The second time, I was trying out a different club in Hartford. Having learned nothing from the first scenario, I gave the sexy braids another try, and was snarkily interrogated by the doorman for twenty minutes without being allowed to see the manager. “You do realize what kind of dancing this is?” He demanded. “It’s not, like, ballet, or anything.” I assured him that I was perfectly informed of the situation and was, in fact, prepared to seduce any number of fine gentlemen, but all to no avail. In retrospect, I’m sure it was the braids that prejudiced him against me.

3. Have a Playlist

I didn’t, my first night on the job, and was completely unprepared when the veteran stripper showing me the ropes sat me down in front of the computer that serves as an electronic dj and instructed me to pick out my stripper name and 15 songs to go with it.
I could only think of a handful that I really liked, and for the rest of my playlist I chose random suggested songs with sexy-sounding titles. So it was that, an hour later, I was called to stage to the endearing backdrop of a song whose chorus rang out, “Pussy, money, weed!!”
I still cannot edit this playlist.

4. Don’t Wear Tights

I realized the technical error I had made with my wardrobe when I began to disrobe. I got the dress off fine. Then the bra. Then came the striking realization. I was in a nude club. And I could not access my panties.
They were buried, under my tights (not thigh-highs – actual waist-high tights), which were locked in place by my strapped heels.
I offered an apologetic ‘wait just a minute’ finger to the two bros sitting stageside, plopped down on the stage, and took off my shoes. Then the tights. Per club policy, I had to put the shoes back on before I could take the friggen thong off.

5. Don’t Ask the Manager Whether Your Club is Nude. Ask the Internet.

You will find, if you enter this profession, that strip-club owners and managers know what is going on in their own clubs very rarely. This is even more true of management in charge of several clubs.
I learned this one the hard way, after an audition at the Cadillac Lounge in Providence.
“You’re very beautiful,” the house-mom encouraged me. “But your moves are still a little lacking in confidence, so I’m going to start you off downtown at our sister lounge.”
When asked, the house-mom said this sister lounge was topless, but not fully nude.
Downtown I went, and was informed by the doormen of this sister-lounge that the house-mom at Cadillac had nothing to do with their hiring decisions, and that they would tell the DJ to put me onstage for one set as an audition. There were customers there, so this had a trial-by-fire feeling, but I decided this was a thrilling adventure and that I would have fun.
The DJ started playing “Living Dead Girl”, and I lost my cocktail dress as gracefully as I could. Then I whipped out a tit. I heard an outraged “Hey!” somewhere in the distance of the room, and tried to ignore the mystery angry man as I continued to dance, whipping my bra off completely and twirling it over my head.
“Hey!” The cry came again, and then some words I couldn’t decipher, something-something-something, “…topless, right?” I grinned and flashed thumbs-up at the shadowy depths of the club in acknowledgement of the astute observation. I was, indeed, topless.
“No!” Then I saw him – the doorman – as he ran up to the side of the stage, still shouting. “I said, we’re NOT topless!”
“Oh,” I said, retrieving my bra. “…Sorry.”
“What did you think, we’d have a topless bar in downtown Providence?”
“I guess I was misinformed.”
“You didn’t see any of the other dancers taking off THEIR bras, did you?”
“Maybe they were playing hard to get?” It was early in the night, and I knew from my month’s worth of experience dancing at that point that sometimes dancers don’t take their lingerie off when it’s still early. The doorman just shook his head, groaning stressfully.
I had to let a month pass before I could think of dancing again after this. There’s something kind of traumatizing about having someone scream in horror at the sight of your bare boob.

Pop Goes the Weasel

You may have heard the song involving a too-rambunctious monkey and the weasel who goes “pop” around pointy shoe-maker’s tools and imagined a scenario where a rodent pricks his toe and bursts like a balloon. A closer inspection of these lyrics, however, reveals a much more harrowing narrative – this is the timeless tale of a weasel’s acquisition of his very first handgun.

Round and round the cobbler’s bench
The monkey chased the weasel
The monkey thought it was all in good fun
Pop! goes the weasel

The juicy drama unfolds, like most juicy dramas, around a cobbler’s bench. The monkey, easily two to four times the weasel’s size, thought it was hilarious to chase the skinny bastard around a bench littered with picks, nails and other terribly dangerous items. I think it’s fair to assume that damn monkey had been terrifying the weasel for years for his own cruel amusement. Clearly, this monkey lacks the moral fiber to have been perturbed by a case of spontaneous weasel combustion. So the weasel takes the only logical course of action available, and fires off his handgun.

The word “cobbler” lends the tale an added layer of sketchiness. Most commonly, it’s interpreted to mean a shoe-maker. But the other kind of cobbler may be more relevant – the kind of illegal professional who creates false passports, visas, diplomas, and other documents. So we have an innocuous shoe-repair shop fronting a darker, more lucrative side-trade. No wonder the monkey’s such a brute; he’s not just some ill-trained pet. He’s the cobbler’s enforcer.

Giddy with exhilaration after firing his first gun and cowing his bully co-worker into submission, the strapped rodent goes on a mad terror spree through the streets.

A penny for a spool of thread
A penny for a needle
That’s the way the money goes
Pop! goes the weasel

From forgery, the weasel has quickly progressed to penny-thieving and shaking down hard-taxed merchants. Where will his depravity take him next?

Every night when I get home
The monkey’s on the table
Take a stick and knock it off
Pop! goes the weasel.

The relationship between the narrator and the weasel finally becomes clear; the monkey, who had spared no qualm in bullying the poor scrawny weasel, is held in check by the narrator only with nightly beatings-by-stick. It seems the narrator was supposed to be in charge all along. Unfortunately, the weasel’s had enough of that monkey’s sass – if before the gunblast was enough to frighten the monkey in submission, now it is enough to finish him. There is a clear message to the narrator in this as well: the weasel will now be calling the shots.

If you’re skeptical that the song is meant to tell the tale of a seedy criminal underworld inhabited by deutshbag animals, just listen to this lesser-known alternate verse:

Jimmy’s got the whooping cough
And Timmy’s got the measles
That’s the way the story goes
Pop! goes the weasel.

Case regretfully closed.