This Old Man…and what makes him sick

This old man, he played one

He played knick-knack on my thumb

Knick-knack paddy whack

Give the dog the bone

This old man came rolling home.

This old man, he played two

He played knick-knack on my shoe

Knick-knack paddy whack

Give the dog the bone

This old man came rolling home.

This old man, he played three

He played knick-knack on my knee

Knick-knack paddy whack

Give the dog the bone

This old man came rolling home.

This old man, he played four

He played knick-knack on my door

Knick-knack paddy whack

Give the dog the bone

This old man came rolling home.

This old man, he played five

He played knick-knack on my hive

Knick-knack paddy whack

Give the dog the bone

This old man came rolling home.

This old man, he played six

He played knick-knack with some sticks

Knick-knack paddy whack

Give the dog the bone

This old man came rolling home.

This old man, he played seven

He played knick-knack up to

Heaven Knick-knack paddy whack

Give the dog the bone

This old man came rolling home.

This old man, he played eight

He played knick-knack on my gate

Knick-knack paddy whack

Give the dog the bone

This old man came rolling home.

This old man, he played nine

He played knick-knack on my spine

Knick-knack paddy whack

Give the dog the bone

This old man came rolling home.

This old man, he played ten

He played knick-knack once again

Knick-knack paddy whack

Give the dog the bone

This old man came rolling home.

What kind of sick game is this knick-knack, you may wonder, snickering immaturely to yourself.  What kind of game can you play on someone’s thumb, and shoe, and knee, and door, and hive, and spine?  There must be some kind of innuendo there!  In fact, that’s all in your dirty mind.  I did actual research, with the internet, and found out that “knick knack” was what you called it when you beat out a particular rhythm with spoons.  The old man isn’t playing a game – he’s playing music.  Poorly.  According to our narrator, his first attempt is a count of one – a steady metronome carried out on the poor witness’s thumb.  The last line asserts the old man will later “come rolling home”, implying the narrator is a member of his immediate family.  Most likely, it’s the spoon-musician’s kid referring to him as the “old man.”

The old guy’s main characteristics so far are annoyingness.  Then comes the ominous, “Knick knack paddy wack” –and you get the sense that the old man’s knick-knacking has gotten out of control.  He’s taken his act far from the home – to a paddy, which dictionary.com assures me is basically a bog where you grow rice.  The knick-knacking ends abruptly here, with a “wack” – immediately followed by his dog receiving a bone.  Wading through the high paddy waters, it’s possible he accidentally wacked some small animal to death with his out-of-control spoon-music, and then goes home.

But it happens again the next day.  He starts out, again, annoyingly, smacking out a two-beat rhythm on his kid’s shoe.  Then finds himself again in the paddy, and again – wack!  And his dog gets a bone.  It’s not that easy to accidentally hit small animals with spoons.  Maybe he’s doing it on purpose.  Or – maybe we should be using the other definition of “wack”…the one that refers to the kills of crime rings.  The old man seems to have stumbled into the boggy dumping ground of some criminal element.  Rather than being disturbed or concerned, however, the gross old spoon-musician starts wrenching up decaying limbs to feed his dog.

Then he starts knick-knacking again the next day, to a count of three, continuing an increasingly ritualistic-looking pattern, where he spoon-bangs weird parts of his kid’s body, varying architectural crevices of symbolic importance and elements of the natural world then scurrying off to the paddy to gorge his hound on dead people.  Then he rolls around through the paddy until he finds his way home.  Apparently, he lives very near the paddy.  The paddy may even be his own land, and the rice growing there his own produce.  The young narrator does not venture a guess as to how the bodies came to be in his rice paddy; in his innocence, in fact, the horrifying tenor of what he’s describing seems to be taken light-heartedly as some funny, playful quirks of his father.  Perhaps the stringing-together in song of all the oddities he’s observed indicate a child at the very brink of discovering the grotesque darkness underlying every element of his little world.